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Gov. Baker: No More Syrian Refugees In Mass. 'Until I Know More'

Speaking to reporters days after the Paris terror attacks, Gov. Charlie Baker said any conversation about accepting Syrian refugees "has to start with whatever process the federal government is going to put in place, to vet people through that process." (Jesse Costa/WBUR File Photo)MoreCloseclosemore
Speaking to reporters days after the Paris terror attacks, Gov. Charlie Baker said any conversation about accepting Syrian refugees "has to start with whatever process the federal government is going to put in place, to vet people through that process." (Jesse Costa/WBUR File Photo)

Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday said he is opposed to allowing additional Syrian refugees to be resettled in Massachusetts until he knows more about the federal government's process for screening refugees.

Speaking in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, Baker said any conversation on the issue "has to start with whatever process the federal government is going to put in place, to vet people through that process."

He added that "[at] this point in time, we would have to be very cautious about accepting folks without knowing a lot more about what the federal government's plan looks like and how it would actually be implemented."

Pressed, the Republican said he would "certainly say no" to Syrian refugees coming into the state "until I know a lot more than I know now."

Baker's comments come after a series of coordinated terrorist attacks left scores dead in Paris on Friday night. French officials have said that at least one of the attackers may have made his way from Syria to France by posing as a refugee.

In conveying his stance, Baker said the "safety and security of the people of the commonwealth of Mass[achusetts]" is his highest priority.

Baker was asked his opinion Monday after governors of several other states, including Texas and Arkansas, stated that they will not allow Syrian refugees into their states following the Paris attacks.

It's not immediately clear what authority governors have in determining if and where refugees can be resettled.

U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Monday afternoon that its "laywers are looking at that."

Under the Refugee Act of 1980, governors cannot legally block refugees from settling in their communities, Lavinia Limon, president of the U.S Committee for Refugees and Immigration, told The Associated Press.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who was with Baker at the State House on Monday, said he "stands with the governor" on the issue.

But Walsh then released a statement, saying:

As a city and as a country it is not our custom to turn our backs on people who are in need and who are innocent. We have yet to receive guidelines from the federal or state government on how they will move forward, however should we be told that Boston is accepting refugees, we will work with our partners at the federal, state and local levels to ensure the safety of Boston residents.

Baker and Walsh said they have had no conversations with federal officials since the Paris attacks.

In September, Baker said he would defer to the federal government on Syrian refugees, but was not opposed to engaging with the U.S. State Department about ways Massachusetts could be a partner.

As of last month, fewer than 100 Syrian refugees had been resettled in Massachusetts since the Syrian civil war began in 2011.

The Obama administration has said it'll accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next 12 months.

Clark University professor Anita Fabos researches refugee communities, and told WBUR's Newscast Unit that while the fear of ISIS is certainly legitimate, policymakers need to understand that the process of vetting refugees seeking asylum in the U.S. is very rigorous.

"Unlike what we've been seeing in the European context, the United States has a very robust system of vetting and screening," Fabos said. "It's a multi-year process, actually."

On Monday, President Obama addressed the issue of refugees when speaking about the Paris attacks and ISIS from the G20 summit in Turkey.

"Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values," the president said. He added later: "The people who are fleeing Syria are the most harmed by terrorism."

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and Reps. Seth Moulton and Jim McGovern were among those in the Massachusetts congressional delegation who issued statements criticizing Baker for his position on Syrian refugees.

Written by WBUR's Benjamin Swasey, with additional reporting by WBUR's Steve Brown, Shannon Dooling and Qainat Khan

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