Republican Governors Are Rejecting Trump’s Anti-Refugee Agenda

The president’s attempt to create a wedge issue is backfiring.

Ever since Trump issued a Muslim travel ban during his first week in office, this administration has made it clear that their goal is to dismantle the refugee system in this country. Every year they have lowered the number of refugees that are permitted to enter the United States, which now stands at the 40-year low of 18,000.

In order to turn refugee resettlement into a wedge issue and garner support for his policies from red states, the president signed an executive order last September that required every state and local jurisdiction to sign a consent letter authorizing the settlement of refugees in their jurisdiction. The order was designed to put pressure on local officials, by forcing them to opt in to the resettlement program rather than opt out.

Given that on the two occasions that Trump visited my home state he used the opportunity to demonize Somali refugees, I am particularly fond of the letter Minnesota Governor Tim Walz sent to the State Department on December 13th opting in. He stated the following.

Refugees strengthen our communities. Bringing new cultures and fresh perspectives, they contribute to the social fabric of our state. Opening businesses and supporting existing ones, they are critical to the success of our economy. Refugees are doctors and bus drivers. The are entrepreneurs and police officers. They are students and teachers. They are our neighbors…As the Holiday Season approaches, we are reminded of the importance of welcoming all who seek shelter. The inn is not full in Minnesota.

Governor Jared Polis of Colorado, a Democrat from a swing state, upped the ante a bit by writing that his state would “gladly accept refugees turned away by other states or local jurisdictions. Their loss, he noted, would be Colorado’s gain.”

States and local jurisdictions have until January 21 to provide written consent to participate, and at least 33 governors have alread done so. Much to the surprise of the Trump administration, that number includes 15 Republican governors.

Perhaps it isn’t much of a surprise that Sununu of New Hampshire, Scott of Vermont, and Baker of Massachusetts have opted in, but the rest of the list is a bit shocking, so the White House was forced to do a bit of lobbying.

The Trump Administration was caught off guard by the positions taken by Republican-controlled states. Just before Thanksgiving, after the governor of North Dakota submitted his consent letter, the White House organized a phone call with governors’ offices to “enhance state and local involvement” in resettlement…

The call was led by a political appointee named Andrew Veprek, a deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration….

On the call with governors, Veprek tried to sound impartial, but he repeatedly recommended that states abdicate their responsibility. “State and local officials should not do anything right now,” he said at one point, according to multiple people on the call.

Keep in mind that the way this whole process was set up, doing nothing means opting out of accepting refugees. That is what the White House wants these governors to do.

According to an article in Christian Post, many of these governors received letters from evangelicals urging them to participate in the refugee resettlement program.

Over 2,600 evangelicals called on their state governors this past week to consent to resettle refugees in their borders following an executive order signed by President Donald Trump requiring approval from state and local officials before refugees can be resettled.

One of the letters, which was signed by 294 evangelicals in the state, was sent to Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey before he gave consent last Friday to refugee resettlement in Arizona’s borders.

Another letter, signed by 136 evangelicals in North Carolina, was sent to Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper, who gave his consent for resettlement in the Tar Heel State to the U.S. State Department on Tuesday…

The letters received a combined total of 2,669 signatories, including 659 on the letter to Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee, 340 on the letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and 231 on the letter to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

As you can see from the list above, neither Abbot of Texas nor Kemp of Georgia have weighed in yet. If they remain silent, they opt out.

Given that the Trump administration has reduced the total number of refugees to 18,000, no state or local community is at risk of receiving a large number of new residents. But what we are witnessing is that a group of Republican governors (many of whom represent very red states) are rejecting Trump’s white nationalist-inspired anti-refugee agenda.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.