Charlotte, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory says he has asked the federal government to stop sending Syrian refugees to North Carolina until more is known how those fleeing the war-torn country are vetted.
Citing last week's Paris terrorist attacks, McCrory joined at least 10 other governors from around the country in asking the federal government to provide more information about those being resettled from Syria.
"I empathize with these people who are dealing with unimaginable atrocities from ISIS," McCrory said during a hastily called news conference in Charlotte. "But what worries me is some of these people might be ISIS."
McCrory pointed to reports that suggested that at least one of those involved in the Paris attacks arrived in France as a refugee and that ISIS may be trying to send fighters to other countries as refugees.
His announcement was less definitive than some other governors. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who like McCrory is a Republican, issued an executive order purporting to ban the resettlement of refugees in his state. However, it's unclear that states have the power to block federal resettlement programs.
While North Carolina is the conduit for some federal refugee resettlement funding, McCrory said Monday that he did not know of any way that he could simply end resettlements.
Rather, he said, the federal government brings refugees into the country, and they are then turned over to nonprofits such as U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. The nonprofits bill the state for some of the services they provide, but that funding is underwritten by the federal government.
McCrory said North Carolina has received 59 Syrian refugees to date. President Barack Obama announced in September that the United States would expand the total number of Syrian refugees it would accept, from 1,600 to 10,000, but only after a rigorous screening process.
McCrory said Monday that the state knows little about how that screening works and was told virtually nothing about those who have been resettled here.
"We would trust them (the federal government) more if they would tell us more about what they're doing," he said. "I want to make sure we're not opening ourselves up to a potential terrorist situation."
Ellen Andrews, director of Church World Service in Durham, which helps international refugees find safe haven, said McCrory has little to fear from the refugees.
"Refugees are very carefully scrutinized, and there is a firm vetting process in place for refugees who enter the country," Andrews said.
Cecillia Wang, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants' Rights Project, said it's wrong to base policy on what she called "fear mongering" by politicians.
"Some politicians have attempted to fabricate a link between the tragedy in Paris and the resettlement of Syrian refugees to the United States," Wang said in a statement. "It is factually wrong for blaming refugees for the very terror they are fleeing, and it is legally wrong because it violates our laws and the values on which our country was founded."
In advance of McCrory's announcement, several state lawmakers were urging the governor to take steps to turn away Syrians.
"I have asked the Governor to stop all Syrian refugees from entering NC and to call on the Feds to deport the 44 who are already here," Rep. Carl Ford, R-Rowan, said via Twitter.
State House Majority Leader Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, said in a news release, "I have expressed concerns to Gov. McCrory that we must refuse relocation of any refugees here to ensure the safety of all North Carolinians. With the terrorist attacks in Paris over the weekend, we cannot allow such attacks to happen here."
Republican U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis called for the entire Syrian refugee program to be halted until people's backgrounds could be substantiated.
"The Syrian refugee program should be suspended until the American people are satisfied that they know exactly who the President is admitting into the country via this program," Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.
"I have deep concerns as we lack the appropriate background data to properly vet such a large group of Syrian refugees and believe it is time for the Obama Administration to reassess its plan to bring them to the United States," Tillis said in a statement.
But Democratic 4th District Congressman David Price said the issues of terrorism and Syrian refugees shouldn't be conflated.
"Closing our borders to refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war not only flies in the face of our national values of protecting the persecuted and providing refuge for the oppressed; it also undermines our nation’s standing in the world and our ability to confront the scourge of violent extremism," Price said in a statement.