What power does Gov. Wolf have in accepting or rejecting refugees?

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Nov 20, 2015 3:58 AM

Photo by AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

In this Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015 photo migrants wash their hands and items at a station for fresh water inside France's biggest refugee camp near Calais, northern France.

(Harrisburg) -- In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 129 people, many Republican lawmakers - on the state and federal levels -- have called on Governor Tom Wolf to reject Syrian refugees.

But he doesn't really have a choice.

First of all, the program is run by the federal government. A 1980 federal law gives most of the authority to the U.S. Coordinator for Refugee Affairs.

So while a governor could make things difficult and uncomfortable for refugees, experts say they have no legal standing to outright refuse them.

Jim Schultz is a lawyer who once worked for Republican Governor Tom Corbett.

"There are state programs in place in a lot of states and a lot of times states fund nonprofit organizations who facilitate efforts to bring refugeees to the United States. One thing states could do is cut off funding or cut off support for those programs."

Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services does oversee a refugee resettlement program.

But he tells WITF's Smart Talk if Wolf wanted to try to flex his power, nonprofits could simply fill in the gaps.

"It's really an in-between issue at the end of the day, and whether states cooperate or not might not matter to the federal government because they can work with nonprofit organizations to bring them into whatever area they want to bring them into," says Schultz.

Schultz says nonprofits like Catholic Charities and Lutheran Children and Family Service could simply bring refugees to Pennsylvania without support from the state.

They work to find refugees housing and jobs, so they don't need government assistance like Medicaid or food stamps.

Wolf has said he'll accept Syrian refugees to carry out Pennsylvania's multicultural and welcoming tradition.

He says the vetting process, which includes special background checks, is extensive.

Refugees entering the U.S. must pass extensive background checks, with a special screening program already in place for those from Syria.

The process typically takes 18 to 24 months.

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