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In Illinois, Rauner suspends accepting new Syrian refugees

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WASHINGTON — In the wake of the Paris attacks, Gov. Bruce Rauner said Monday he will “temporarily suspend” resettling new Syrian refugees in Illinois, though it is not clear whether any governor has the power to ban people legally in the U.S. from living where they choose.

By the end of Monday, Rauner was one of at least 25 governors — all but one Republican — who said fear of terrorist attacks led them to halt, or at least pause, accepting Syrians fleeing a violent civil war.

This comes as President Barack Obama, before the Paris massacre, set a goal of allowing 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. in fiscal 2016.

Speaking in Turkey on Monday about the refugees, Obama said “slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values. Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.”

A short time later, Rauner, grappling with state security concerns, said in a statement, “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.

“We must find a way to balance our tradition as a state welcoming of refugees while ensuring the safety and security of our citizens.

“Therefore, the state of Illinois will temporarily suspend accepting new Syrian refugees and consider all of our legal options pending a full review of our country’s acceptance and security processes by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security,” Rauner said.

OPINION

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The number of Syrian refugees in Illinois so far has been small. Between Oct. 1 and Oct. 15 of this year there were 17, according to the State Department.

In all, State Department records show 169 Syrian refugees were sent to Illinois between Jan. 1, 2010, and last Nov. 16, with 105 placed in Chicago; 35 in Rockford; 18 in Aurora; 3 in Alsip; 3 in Wheaton and one each in Urbana, Des Plaines, Hillside, Prospect Heights and Rock Island.

Unlike France, Germany and other nations closer to Syria, the U.S. has not been confronted with floods of Syrian refugees easily crossing international borders.

This gives the U.S. the opportunity to screen refugees while they are overseas, before allowing them entry, a process that takes at least a year and involves multiple security screenings and a personal interview.

Once in the U.S., they are usually helped by one of nine private social service agencies funded by the federal government.

At issue, post-Paris, is whether the checks are stringent enough. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who supports Rauner’s move, teamed up with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., to write a letter to Obama on Monday on their concerns that the Islamic State, or ISIL or ISIS terrorists could infiltrate the refugee ranks.

Kirk and Ayotte wrote: “We believe that an essential component of that effort is ensuring that no refugee related to the Syrian crisis is admitted to the United States unless the U.S. government can guarantee, with 100 percent assurance, that they are not members, supporters, or sympathizers of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as Daesh or ISIL.”

With security concerns on the table, Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not criticize Rauner’s move when asked as he paid a condolence call at the French Consulate in Chicago on Monday.

Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, noted that vetting takes at least a year and echoed Obama’s strong view that the U.S. needs to welcome the refugees.

“My one word is, security and our values go hand-in-hand,” Emanuel said. “The United States government is in the vetting process, but our values are one in which we remind ourselves that we are an open, welcoming society.”

Almost half the nation’s governors and the 2016 GOP presidential candidates want to block the Syrian refugees. State Department spokesman Mark Toner was asked if they can legally do that.

“I don’t have an answer for you. . . . I think our lawyers are looking at that,” Toner said.

Rauner can’t ban the refugees, said Lavinia Limon, president and CEO of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. Once they touch down on U.S. soil, “they are legal residents of the U.S. As such, they can move anywhere they want and sometimes they do.”

Follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter: @LynnSweet

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