Sweet: Rauner, White House at impasse over Syria refugees

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Gov. Bruce Rauner. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

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WASHINGTON – A sticking point between Gov. Bruce Rauner and the White House over Syrian refugees is whether the federal government will give Illinois information about them prior to their arrival.

For now, the answer is no, according to a Rauner spokesman.

So the impasse continues as the White House tries to convince the nation’s governors and Congress that the stringent screening process for Syrian refugees works.

Rauner last week temporarily suspended allowing the refugees fleeing a war from settling in Illinois, a move that had no immediate impact, since nothing changed. Rauner and more than 30 governors — all but one Republican — called for at the least  a ban on taking them in.

The White House has gone on the offensive to make the case that the refugees, in the screening pipeline for more than a year, face tougher vetting than any other class of visitor to the U.S.

The Rauner administration on Monday revealed that Rauner and White House chief of Staff Denis McDonough discussed Syrian refugees coming to Illinois last Friday.

In a statement, Rauner communications chief Lance Trover said Rauner in his conversation with McDonough “affirmed his commitment to be a partner with the federal government on the resettlement of refugees and noted a growing frustration over the federal government’s refusal to address specific security concerns and requests for information.”


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McDonough then had Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas call Rauner and the two also talked on Friday.

Trover said, “Mayorkas expressed his interest in helping address the Governor’s requests for information about Syrian refugees coming to Illinois but said privacy concerns may preclude the federal government from sharing such information. Deputy Secretary Mayorkas agreed to assemble a team to address the Governor’s questions and would follow-up with the Governor’s Office to schedule a briefing time.”

Rauner’s team revealed the McDonough call after a letter to Rauner from Secretary of State John Kerry and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson — sent on Friday —surfaced on Saturday, providing more details about the screenings.

Kerry and Johnson sent the letters to Rauner and other governors after a 90-minute White House briefing call for governors on Tuesday and a House vote on Thursday setting almost impossibly high screening standards for Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

Rauner did not join the call though 34 governors did.


Meanwhile, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., in a Monday letter to Rauner urged him to “end your opposition to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Illinois and instead join me in working to close loopholes in the Visa Waiver Program and federal gun laws that truly endanger the safety of Illinoisans.”

Durbin called on Rauner to meet with Syrian refugee families in Illinois before the Thursday Thanksgiving holiday.

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