Home Social Justice Featured Blog: States can’t really deny refugees; the federal government overrules governors in immigration

Featured Blog: States can’t really deny refugees; the federal government overrules governors in immigration

8 min read

Here is your reminder that state governors don’t have the power to turn away refugees. In matters of immigration law, federal law takes priority over those of the states.

At a time when state governors and presidential candidates are grandstanding to act as if keeping people out of the United States will promote safety, they are forgetting the very simple fact that they have no grounds to deny the masses who seek refuge from foreign conflict.

Damon Root of Reason.com explained how states cannot deny refugees once they are admitted to the U.S. The reason is the precedent set in the 1915 Supreme Court case Truax v. Raich.

“Congress possesses the constitutional power to regulate the admission of aliens to the United States. Once an alien has been lawfully admitted under federal law, no state may ‘deny them entrance and abode,’” Root said. “That standard plainly covers the treatment of Syrian refugees that have been lawfully admitted to the United States.”

Not exactly a big proponent of the term “alien,” but the point is clear.

Elsewhere, Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress used a different legal precedent to explain why state governments can’t decide immigration policy. In the 1941 case Hines v. Davidwitz, the telling opinion states: “the supremacy of the national power in the general field of foreign affairs, including power over immigration, naturalization and deportation, is made clear by the Constitution.”

States don’t get to make a fuss about who moves within their borders if immigrants go through the process.

As recently as Wednesday, the state of Texas took steps to sue the federal government in order to block refugees who were supposed to relocate to Dallas on Friday, Dec. 4. But if the Refugee Act of 1980 gives the federal government more power to deal with refugees, it also seems to indicate that the federal government is at least supposed to address the concerns of state governments who might have qualms about new immigrants.

Along those lines, state governments CAN make matters more difficult for refugees and those who seek to aid them, as The New Republic’s Suzy Khimm explains. Basically, state leaders could slow aid to non-profits who help refugees and refuse to offer help to those looking to become accustomed to life in America.

People are now experiencing pangs of fear at the very idea of the word “refugee” because it has taken on a specific connotation. These are lots of brown people, and these are lots of Muslims. Supposedly they are not like us and do not share our values.

On the flip side of that, many prominent advocates take a more reasonable approach to the situation. David Miliband, head of the International Rescue Committee, talked about the number of refugees taken in during an interview for Fusion. He also discussed the thorough vetting process for those seeking refuge in the U.S.

“There’s an 18 month procedure for the screening of all refugees coming to the US,” Miliband said. “The U.S. admitted about 70,000 refugees last year and 12-15 government agencies look through every case. They do interviews, they do biometric testing.”

Additionally, Miliband noted that 750,000 refugees have come to America since 2001.

It shouldn’t be necessary to offer the good old “huddled masses” spiel. Americans are giving into fear and Islamophobia by resisting the relocation of people in need on the premise that there might be some extremists who want to bring destruction to America. This isn’t something that makes America look like a shining beacon of freedom; supposedly, America sets the standards.

How about the federal government and state governments come to the table with plans about how to ensure that these people in need are helped and that no safety threat is presented to Americans now. That threat is over exaggerated anyway, but it won’t hurt to address states’ concerns, even if they are manufactured for political purposes.

After the Paris attacks, France still plans on taking in tens of thousands of refugees. So what’s the deal, America? Is it refugees you fear, or Muslims? Either way, the states can’t refuse them. Good luck with your political posturing, GOP governors.


Here are four pieces of media that you should examine about refugees and U.S. accomodation of them.


Colorlines dives into a history of selective immigration policy.

Reason.com featured in an article some of the hurdles that refugees must come over to get to attain American residency.

ThinkProgress goes through some legal precedents to explain why states can’t keep out refugees.

Caitlin MacNeal explained for Talking Points Memo how states can’t really ban the refugees but they can make the process murky.



Load More Related Articles
Load More By Kaleb Carter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Check Also

Featured Blog: A year of writing about law, justice & the media

Over the course of a school year, I have tried my hand at writing a column on law, justice…