Martinez opposes plan to take in Syrian refugees

SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez joined other Republican governors Monday in expressing concern about efforts to allow Syrian refugees to enter their states, after news reports that one of the suspected perpetrators of last week’s deadly attacks in Paris had a Syrian passport and had traveled to France.

In a statement issued Monday, a Martinez spokesman said the two-term governor is opposed – at least for now – to President Barack Obama’s plan to accept about 10,000 refugees from war-torn Syria.

Gov. Susana Martinez
Gov. Susana Martinez

“The governor strongly opposes the Obama administration’s plan to accept more Syrian refugees until there is a very clear plan in place to properly vet and place the refugees, and the voices of governors and the public can be heard,” Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan said.

He also said the governor has instructed state agencies to work closely with federal authorities in response to any potential security threats.

The governor’s statement came after roughly two dozen other governors across the nation, nearly all of them Republicans, threatened Monday to stop accepting Syrian refugees after last week’s deadly terrorist attacks in Paris, even as some experts said they lack legal authority to block the relocations.

Meanwhile, Obama argued Monday that the United States needs to allow the refugees because many are fleeing terrorism, a sentiment echoed by civil liberties groups.

It’s up to the federal government to decide how many refugees to allow into the country and how they will be geographically relocated, but Martinez and other governors are expected to raise questions in the coming months about security protocol and the resettlement process.

New Mexico is not expected to be a major destination for Syrian refugees. Only six Syrian refugees have been relocated in New Mexico since January 2014, according to the U.S. State Department’s Refugee Processing Center.

There have been larger numbers of refugees from other countries, including 58 refugees from Afghanistan who have been resettled in Albuquerque during the same time period.

Previously, some New Mexico elected officials have expressed support for welcoming Syrian refugees into the country, as Syria has been immersed in a civil war that has caused thousands of residents to flee in fear of their lives.

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., signed onto a letter in September that called on the Obama administration to accept and resettle a minimum of 100,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016 – or 10 times what the Obama administration has proposed.

The governors in opposition to accepting the Syrian refugees – there were at least 25 of them – were responding to heightened concerns that terrorists might use the refugees as cover to sneak across borders. The Paris prosecutors’ office says fingerprints from the attacker whose body was found near the Syrian passport match those of someone who passed through Greece in October.

Some state leaders disagree with Obama’s assertion the country can simultaneously welcome refugees seeking safety and ensure citizens’ security. Several have called for a complete halt to resettlement, others for temporary delays and a few seek more information from federal officials on the vetting process.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Homeland Security Department says refugees face the highest level of security screening of anybody entering the country, but officials will work to allay states’ concerns.

Martinez’s statement was more restrained than some of her GOP colleagues.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter directly to Obama on Monday, imploring the president to halt his administration’s plans for accepting more Syrian refugees in the United States.

“Neither you nor any federal official can guarantee that Syrian refugees will not be part of any terroristic activity,” Abbott wrote in his letter. “As such, opening our door to them irresponsibly exposes our fellow Americans to unacceptable peril.”

However, other governors said they would welcome Syrian refugees to their state, depending on how the federal government decides to relocate the refugees.

And the American Civil Liberties Union accused the governors opposed to allowing Syrian refugees in their states of “fear-mongering,” claiming such opposition violates the values the country was founded upon.

Martinez, the nation’s only Latina governor, has previously blamed Obama and Congress for other immigration-related issues, such as the wave of Central American immigrants – many of them unaccompanied children – that arrived in the country last year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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