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Lawmakers seek more roadblocks for Middle East refugees

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Seven Republican lawmakers are trying to erect new roadblocks to the federal government resettling Middle East refugees in Arizona.

Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, the prime sponsor of HB2370, said his aim is to block plans by the Obama administration to locate in Arizona any of the 10,000 Syrians that will be brought into the country this year. Thorpe said he has no confidence that the federal government is properly screening refugees, a point he said was proven by the terrorist who, with her husband, killed 14 people in December in San Bernardino.

“Right now, people are being placed here without even the state’s knowledge,” he said. Thorpe said Arizona needs information from the feds about not just who is here but how they were screened.

“They need to show us they have fully vetted these people,” Thorpe said.

The issue, he said, goes to the question of state sovereignty.

“I assume the federal government has the jurisdiction to have a refugee program,” he said. “I don’t necessarily agree they have the right to force a state to take those refugees.”

Whether the state can do that, however, is another matter.

“I don’t believe that’s ever been challenged in court,” Thorpe said. “It’s my hope that if my bill gets passed that might open up the opportunity for our attorney general to then challenge the federal government and really determine where states’ rights begin and end.”

So far, though, no state has been able to actually keep refugees from being placed in their state.

In November, Gov. Doug Ducey added his voice to a chorus of governors asking the federal government to immediately halt placement of new refugees in Arizona. Ducey cited a provision of federal law that entitles him to “immediate consultation by federal authorities” of plans to resettle any refugees in the state.

Ducey also demanded the federal government “take into account the concerns and recommendations of the state of Arizona as they are required to under federal law, in our efforts to keep our homeland safe.”

But what Ducey got was a conference call between federal officials and various governors detailing their screening efforts.

The Department of State reports that in 2014 and 2015 it resettled 183 Syrians in Arizona, including 72 in Glendale, 63 in Tucson and the balance in Phoenix. And from the time Ducey registered his objections until mid January, 16 Syrians were resettled in Arizona.

Overall, 2,960 refugees from all places were resettled in Arizona last year. The largest group was from Somalia, with 522, followed by 442 from Iraq.

Thorpe said if his legislation can’t stop refugees, it would at least preclude and state local officials and agencies from cooperating with the federal government to place refugees here unless that person has undergone a “thorough criminal history, terrorism and health background check and has been approved for placement by this state.”

HB 2370 also says there won’t be any state cooperation unless the federal government fully reimburses state and local governments for any costs of placing refugees.

Separately, House Speaker David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, has introduced legislation requiring a special audit of the number of refugees resettled in Arizona in the last 36 months. HB 2691 also would seek a total of how much the state has spent on resettling refugees and how much it has gotten back from the federal government.

Thorpe also has another bill on refugees which requires state licensure of any refugees facilities in the state.

He said, though, HB 2682 is aimed more at facilities like Southwest Key which are under contract to the federal government to deal with unaccompanied minors who have been showing up at the nation’s southern border for the past few years.

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