LINCOLN, Neb. — An executive order by President Donald Trump giving states the right to refuse to take refugees is putting Republican governors in an uncomfortable position.
They’re caught between immigration hardliners who want to shut the door and some Christian evangelicals who believe helping refugees is a moral obligation. Others say refugees are vital to fill jobs and keep rural communities afloat.
More than 30 governors have agreed to accept refugees, but about a dozen Republican governors have stayed silent as they face a decision that must be made by Jan. 21 so resettlement agencies can secure federal funding in time to plan where to place refugees.
Trump’s executive order requires governors to publicly say they will accept refugees. They cannot automatically come to their states, even if cities and counties welcome them. So far, no one has opted to shut out refugees.
A North Dakota county voted this month to accept no more than 25 refugees next year, after initially signaling it would be the first to ban them.
Trump issued the order in September after slashing the number of refugees allowed into the United States in 2020 to a historic low of 18,000. The reduction is part of the administration’s efforts to reduce both legal and illegal immigration.
With his order, Trump again thrust states and local governments into immigration policy, willingly or not. It has caused heated debates and raucous meetings in several states, including North Dakota to Wisconsin.
Trump says his administration acted to respect communities that believe they do not have enough jobs to support refugees. Refugees can move anywhere in the U.S. after their initial resettlement at their own expense.
Republican governors in Nebraska, West Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Arizona, Iowa and Oklahoma have consented to accepting refugees in 2020. Vermont’s Republican governor said he intends to accepts refugees.
Others have not taken a public stance. They include the Republican governors of Georgia and Missouri, along with Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, the state that took in the largest number of refugees this year.
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, the nation’s most populous state that resettles many refugees, also has not consented yet, but his office said he plans to do so.
In 2015, governors from 31 states — nearly all with Republican governors, including Abbott — tried to shut out Syrians, citing terrorism fears. But they didn’t have the legal authority at the time.
Now that they do, some governors have struggled with the decision.
Faith-based groups have led an aggressive campaign urging them to keep accepting refugees, while immigration hardliners have criticized Republicans who have not used their new authority to put the brakes on refugees coming into their states.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, who tried to turn away Syrians in 2015, spent weeks reviewing his options.
He gave his consent Thursday in an open letter to Trump co-signed by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, praising the president for strengthening the vetting process.
“Thanks to your leadership, Americans can be confident once again in the screening process for refugees entering the United States,” the governors said in the letter.