Gov. Bruce Rauner announces temporary closure of Illinois borders to Syrian refugees

Julia Jacobs, City Editor

Illinois will temporarily suspend acceptance of new Syrian refugees following recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Gov. Bruce Rauner announced Monday.

The governor’s unilateral decision to halt resettlement is a response to a series of deadly attacks in Paris perpetrated by at least one Syrian citizen who entered Europe posing as a migrant escaping war, according to The New York Times.

“Our nation and our state have a shared history of providing safe haven for those displaced by conflict, but the news surrounding the Paris terror attacks reminds us of the all-too-real security threats facing America,” Rauner said in a statement. “We must find a way to balance our tradition as a state welcoming of refugees while ensuring the safety and security of our citizens.”

Rauner added that state officials will consider all legal options in the event of a national review of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s refugee acceptance and security processes. President Barack Obama directed his administration in September to make plans to accept at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next fiscal year, which started in October.

Lee Williams, vice president and chief financial officer of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, said governors have little control over the issue considering the federal government is in charge of resettling refugees.

“As soon as a refugee enters the U.S., they are legal residents of the U.S. and anyone has the right to move anywhere in the country,” Williams said. “Nothing would stop them from moving to Chicago or Evanston the following day.”

According to the State Department, 169 Syrian refugees have migrated to Illinois since 2010 — almost two-thirds of whom are living in Chicago.

Weinberg senior Ameer Al-Khudari — whose parents both immigrated from Syria in the 1970s to the Chicagoland area — said although the governor may not have the power to close Illinois borders to Syrian refugees entirely, he may be able to make the process more arduous for migrants. Despite an established Syrian community in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs, Syrian refugees already have a difficult transition from living in a war zone, Al-Khudari said.

“It’s already such a traumatizing experience — having a governor of a state not want you here, it just makes it so much harder,” he said. “Sometimes it feels like the whole world is against people who are just trying to live their lives peacefully.”

Organized Communities Against Deportations, a Chicago-based organization, called the governor’s decree “scapegoating” of Syrian refugees and created an online petition demanding Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel refuse to adhere to the rule.

An increasing number of governors are making similar statements in opposition to Syrian refugees resettling in their states, including the governors of Texas, Arkansas, Wisconsin and Indiana.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence directed his state to suspend resettlement of Syrian refugees until assurance from the federal government that “proper” security measures were in place.

“Indiana has a long tradition of opening our arms and home to refugees from around the world but, as governor, my first responsibility is to ensure the safety and security of all Hoosiers,” Pence said in a statement Monday.

Williams said it is disappointing that governors are choosing to make these announcements considering the positive impact of refugees on state economies and meticulous security processes. For refugees coming from countries that present security concerns for the U.S., the refugee vetting process can often take more than two years, he said.

Andrea Zopp, a U.S. Senate candidate who worked as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office, said although proper background checks are crucial to the resettlement process, the current ban of new Syrian refugees in Illinois “makes no sense.”

“I believe that this is a humanitarian crisis, and we can’t turn our back on our values,” Zopp said in a statement. “This is another example of Governor Rauner ignoring those in need.”

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