A Syrian refugee child sleeps in his father’s arms while waiting to board a bus last month after arriving on a dinghy from the Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos. Muhammed Muheisen AP
A Syrian refugee child sleeps in his father’s arms while waiting to board a bus last month after arriving on a dinghy from the Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos. Muhammed Muheisen AP

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Gov. McCrory’s sudden reversal on Syrian refugees

November 16, 2015 11:50 AM

UPDATED November 16, 2015 04:08 PM

On Friday, Gov. Pat McCrory’s office was satisfied with the background checks U.S. officials apply to Syrian refugees before accepting them into the country. By Monday, the governor was decidedly unsatisfied.

Before the attacks in Paris on Friday, Carolina Journal in Raleigh asked the governor’s office whether it had any security concerns about the Syrian refugees that come into North Carolina and the U.S.

“Prior to being given refugee status, an extensive security screening is conducted on each individual” by the U.S. Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies, McCrory’s office replied.

At a press conference in Charlotte on Monday, however, McCrory said the state has little knowledge of what those background checks entail and that they have “vulnerabilities.” Because of that, McCrory said, Syrian refugees are not welcome in this state.

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McCrory joins at least eight other GOP governors who on Sunday and Monday said they would not willingly accept refugees until the federal government tightened its vetting to ensure terrorists are not admitted.

“I am now requesting that the president and the federal government cease sending refugees from Syria to North Carolina until we are thoroughly satisfied with the effectiveness of the federal background checks and security checks on such refugees entering our country,” McCrory said at a press conference in Charlotte.

McCrory did not specify what the flaws were in that process, nor what fixes would make him open to accepting refugees down the road. He said federal officials communicate almost nothing to the states about the refugees they accept or about the screening process.

He said 59 Syrian refugees have come to North Carolina since the beginning of 2014.

“We have received almost little or no security information about those refugees – on their backgrounds, even possibly their names in certain circumstances,” McCrory said. “We are asking for more additional collaboration and basic information such as where these refugees are now residing.”

It was not clear why McCrory did not have similar concerns when his office responded to the Carolina Journal on Friday. The horrific attacks in Paris did not change how the U.S. screens immigrants here.

“I empathize with these people who are dealing with unimaginable atrocities from ISIS,” McCrory said. “I care for these people. But what worries me is that some of these people could actually be ISIS coming into our country.”

McCrory said he had not coordinated his announcement in any way with other governors making similar announcements on Sunday and Monday.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, both Republicans, each said Sunday night that their states would not accept any Syrian refugees. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made the same announcement today followed by governors from several other states.

In Michigan, which has a relatively large Arab-American population, Snyder said: “Michigan is a welcoming state and we are proud of our rich history of immigration. But our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents.”

That marks a reversal for Snyder, who previously had said the state would accept refugees. “Isn’t that part of being a good Michigander?” he said earlier.

The Carolina Journal reports that North Carolina had been expecting fewer than 270 additional Syrian refugees. The Journal says more than 4,800 refugees from 36 countries entered North Carolina in 2014 and 2015. The most – 1,562 – came from Burma.

The Syrian civil war is driving millions of Syrians out of the country as they seek a safe haven. The majority are women and children. Some call it the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. Some countries have been reluctant to accept them – President Obama said the U.S. would accept only 10,000 – and the Paris attacks have renewed opposition to the idea. While many of the attackers were believed to be French nationals, at least one is thought to be a Syrian who left there and traveled to Europe through Greece.

It is prudent, of course, to be cautious and vigilant about the movement of terrorists. If the federal government’s communication with the states about accepted refugees is nearly as bad as McCrory says, it must be rectified at once.

But almost every one of the millions of Syrian refugees are innocents fleeing the same violence that the West decries. The United States has long welcomed refugees fleeing war-torn countries and has a moral obligation to do so.

Threats, while minuscule, are real, but that should not lead to a blanket rejection of all innocent men, women and children. McCrory and the federal government should talk directly and produce a system that cares for people facing tremendous upheaval and pain. -- Taylor Batten