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55 Montana GOP legislators ask Bullock to refuse Syrian refugees - KXLH.com | Helena, Montana

55 Montana GOP legislators ask Bullock to refuse Syrian refugees

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HELENA -

Fifty-five of Montana’s Republican state lawmakers have signed a letter asking Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock to “use all legal means” to refuse placement of Syrian refugees in Montana.

The letter, dated Nov. 20, said the GOP legislators have “great sympathy for those impacted by the conflict in Syria,” but that unless federal refugee admission guidelines are strengthened, “the threat posed to Montana is too great.”

The letter said because of the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, the legislators want to make sure “every precaution is taken to protect the people of our state.”

Bullock was not available for comment Tuesday, but his office said he hasn’t changed the stance he outlined a week ago, when he said he won’t block any Syrian refugees out-of-hand.

An official with a national refugee group also said Tuesday it’s essentially illegal for governors or states to deny entry or benefits to refugees from a specific country, if those refugees have been cleared for resettlement by federal officials.

“That’s clear-cut discrimination,” said Jen Smyers of Church World Service, one of nine private nonprofits that work to resettle refugees. “When (refugees) enter the United States, they enter as someone invited by the U.S. State Department … and are lawfully present.”

Bullock said Nov. 16 that Montana has a process in place for considering refugee settlement requests and is reviewing it, and would deny any requests if there’s any safety concern.

However, Bullock said the state “will not allow any terrorist organization to intimidate us into abandoning our values.”

President Barack Obama has said the United States plans to resettle at least 10,000 Syrians fleeing conflicts involving Islamic State and other forces in Syria and the Middle East. 

So far, no Syrian refugees have been settled in Montana and no formal requests for any settlement have been made here, Bullock said.

Smyers said only 2,200 Syrians have been resettled in the United States in the past five years, and that about 7,000 more are undergoing review, a process that takes about two years. About 8 million Syrians have been displaced by civil war and other conflicts in the country, she said.

Smyers said refugees undergo rigorous screening before they are allowed to enter the United States.

Republicans – and some Democrats – in Congress have called for increased scrutiny of Syrian refugees. Montana’s two GOP members of Congress, Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Ryan Zinke, have asked Bullock to resist settling any Syrians in Montana until “a vastly improved background check protocol” is put in place.

No Democratic lawmakers signed the Nov. 20 letter and 33 of the Legislature’s 88 GOP legislators did not sign it.

Twenty-five state senators and 30 state representative signed the letter, including Senate President Debby Barrett of Dillon and House Speaker Austin Knudsen of Culbertson.

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