Great Falls Tribune: Montana has no plans to close border to refugees from Syria

WASHINGTON – Montana does not plan to close its borders to refugees from Syria following last week’s attacks in Paris, Gov. Steve Bullock said Monday.

“Montana has a process in place for considering refugee settlement requests. We are reviewing those protocols to ensure that if a request comes (that) we take all appropriate steps to ensure that the safety of Montanans will not be jeopardized by their placement.” said Bullock, a Democrat. “If there are safety concerns about any refugees that are requesting settlement, they will be denied.”

The governor said no Syrian refugees have settled in the state and he was not aware of any formal requests to do so in Montana.

Shahid Haque-Hausrath, the founder of the Border Crossing Law Firm in Helena and an immigration professor at the University of Montana School of Law, said the federal government does background checks on refugees before they are placed in the United States. He said it would not be fair or practical for Bullock to further scrutinize these refugees or second-guess the security checks of the federal government.

“The idea that these refugees would pose a risk to Montanans is misguided, as these are the people who have fled their country to escape terrorism and violence,” Haque-Hausrath said. “To the extent that the governor suggests that he would individually review or deny placement of Syrian refugees, I question how he would determine whether a refugee poses a risk, and where his authority to deny placement comes from.”

More than a dozen governors have said they will not accept Syrian refugees in their states. The Republican governors are concerned that resettlement could open the door to terrorists. Legal scholars say governors probably have little power to stop refugees from entering their states.

Despite such reactions, President Barack Obama is continuing with plans to accept refugees from Syria. Responding to calls to admit Christians but not Muslims into the country, he said Monday: “That’s shameful. That’s not American, it’s not who we are.”

Republican members of Montana’s congressional delegation in Washington urged the White House on Monday to stop accepting Syrian refugees until security concerns have been met.

“While I have strong sympathy for those caught in the conflict in Syria and the region, the president’s current plan to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees (nationwide) only serves to open up our homeland to increased security risks, while doing nothing to solve the root cause of the crisis, which is the civil war in Syria,” Sen. Steve  Daines said.

Rep. Ryan Zinke urged House lawmakers to consider legislation to block the White House from bringing Syrian refugees to the United States. The Islamic State (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Paris.

“The United States should have stepped up and destroyed ISIS at its origins, rather than wait until ISIS grew their capabilities and influence. Now, we face not only ISIS in Syria and Iraq, but also across the globe, and potentially here at home,” he said.

Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, opposed closing the U.S. border, bur urged caution. “Any refugees fleeing the senseless violence in the Middle East must be carefully and thoroughly investigated before they are allowed to find safety in the United States,” he said.

At least 132 people were killed and hundreds injured in a series of attacks that took place around Paris on Friday evening. Several of the attackers have been identified as French citizens. According to French prosecutors, a bomber who targeted the national stadium was found with a Syrian passport.

The passport’s discovery raised concerns that Islamic State militants may be crossing into Turkey before moving to Western Europe alongside the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants who have entered Europe this year, many of them fleeing the civil war in Syria.