LEXINGTON (AP) — Refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war are welcome in Kentucky, at least for three more weeks.
Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear said Monday that Kentuckians should do “the Christian thing” and welcome all refugees who have cleared an extensive vetting process. But Beshear leaves office in three weeks. His Republican successor, Matt Bevin, said he will oppose the resettlement of Syrian refugees “until we can better determine the full extent of any risks to our citizens.”
“The recent terrorist attacks in Paris serve as a warning to the entire civilized world that we must remain vigilant,” Bevin said. “This is why I am joining with other governors across the country in opposing the resettlement of Syrian nationals.”
Bevin’s concerns come just four days after terrorists killed more than 100 people in a series of coordinated attacks across Paris that shocked the world and prompted a wave of U.S. political leaders to vow not to accept refugees from the Syrian conflict, afraid the Islamic State could use the process to send terrorists to American soil.
But it appears Kentucky’s governor does not have the authority to approve or reject refugee resettlement choices.
Kentucky privatized its resettlement program 20 years ago, according to Becky Jordan, director of the Kentucky Office of Refugees. Now all of the federal dollars associated with refugee resettlement flow through the Catholic Charities of Louisville, which then distributes the money to four approved aid groups throughout the state.
“(The governor doesn’t) have that kind of leverage, they let go of the program 20 years ago,” Jordan said. “On the other hand I want to know what he has to say, and whatever concerns he has I would address that.”
At the moment, Jordan said she’s getting conflicting signals as Kentucky transitions from a Democratic administration to a Republican one. Beshear described the Syrian refugees on Monday as “victims of terrorism.” He said as long as the refugees pass the background checks, “then Kentucky ought to step up with everybody else and do the Christian thing, and that is to be your brother’s keeper.”
Jordan said refugees are first identified and interviewed by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. They then must clear an array of background checks, a process Jordan said can take up to two years and includes interviews by officials with Homeland Security and the FBI, collecting fingerprints and crosschecking their identities across several databases.
“It’s a much more intense vetting process than individuals who are going up through Europe,” Jordan said. “They all are just trying to come here to settle their families and to have peace and to be able to live without having fear of terrorism.”