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Republican governors sign on to resettle refugees in their states

Republican governors across the country are telling the Trump administration their states are willing to resettle refugees, responding to a White House order that immigrant advocates argued seemed designed to deter states from taking in refugees.

Last September, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that requires state and local governments to consent to receiving refugees, with some exceptions. Refugee resettlement agencies criticized the move, saying that it ran the risk of crippling the program if state and local jurisdictions denied refugees entry.

But instead of blocking the resettlement of refugees, states, including those led by Republican governors, say they will continue their resettlement programs.

“Throughout our nation’s history, the United States has been a refuge for individuals fleeing religious and political persecution in their homeland, and Arizona has historically been one of the most welcoming states in terms of the number of refugees resettled there,” wrote Republican Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona in a letter to the State Department last month.

Thirty-nine states have said they intend to continue to place refugees in their states. Of those, 17 are led by Republicans. So far, no states have declined to accept refugees.

“During the Trump administration, there’s been this narrative that Republicans don’t support resettlement, but it’s just not the case,” said Jen Smyers, director of policy and advocacy for the immigration and refugee program at Church World Service, one of nine resettlement agencies. “You can’t turn off the light switch and turn off bipartisan support that’s been built up for decades.”

Church World Service is among the agencies that filed a lawsuit challenging the administration’s directive requiring state and local sign-off to receive refugees. A federal judge in Maryland heard arguments in the case earlier this week.

Three resettlement agencies — HIAS, Church World Service, and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service — claim that the executive order violates federal law and is another attempt by the administration to restrict refugee resettlement in the United States.

Refugee resettlement has generally been a bipartisan issue. Over time, though, support among conservatives has declined. According to the Pew Research Center, roughly 19% of conservative Republicans said the United States has a responsibility to accept refugees in 2018, down from around a third in 2017.

In late 2015, more than half the nation’s governors, the majority of whom were Republican, said they opposed letting Syrian refugees into their states after authorities revealed that at least one of the suspects believed to be involved in the Paris terrorist attacks entered Europe among the wave of Syrian refugees. He had falsely identified himself as a Syrian named Ahmad al Muhammad.

One of the main opponents of refugee resettlement at the time was then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. A federal court blocked Indiana from doing anything to interfere with or deter the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

Indiana’s current governor, Republican Eric Holcomb, said his state is “a destination of certainty, stability and opportunity.”

“Our long tradition of welcoming and helping to resettle refugees with support from our federal partners, shows the world the compassion of Hoosiers and our willingness to give others the ability to grow and prosper in the great state of Indiana,” Holcomb wrote in a letter provided to refugee agencies and obtained by CNN.

Over the course of Trump’s presidency, the administration has slashed refugee admissions to historic lows. This fiscal year, the administration set a cap, which dictates how many refugees may be admitted to the US, to 18,000, down from 30,000 the previous year.

“You should be able to decide what is best for your cities and your own neighborhoods,” Trump said at a rally in Minneapolis last October, citing his executive order. “If Democrats were ever to seize power, they would open the floodgates to unvetted, uncontrolled migration,” he warned.

As a result of the declining number of refugees admitted, all nine resettlement agencies have had to close offices or pause their placement programs — chipping away at a system designed to not only place refugees but also help them integrate into communities across the country.

While the future of those agencies is still unclear, states, along with some cities, are reaffirming their commitment to resettle refugees months before they’re required to. Some Republican governors are among them. Many industries rely on employing refugees and conservatives have sought protection of persecuted Christians overseas.

States have until June 1 to provide consent, but resettlement agencies need to submit proposals for federal funding later this month, creating a de-facto deadline.

A State Department spokesperson told CNN that it’s accepting letters on a rolling basis and it will continue to do so after the deadline for agency proposals. The State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration is also posting the letters to its site.

Some of the letters posted strongly denounce the administration’s low refugee cap, recalling the country’s long history of accepting those seeking refuge.

“Presidents as different as John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan believed this country was meant to be a shining ‘city upon a hill,’ echoing the words of the Massachusetts Bay settlers — some of the very first immigrants to these shores, searching for freedom from religious persecution,” wrote Democratic Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon.

“I ask you: what example do we set today, with all the eyes of the world on us?” she added.

Despite broad support for the program, not all states have provided a response, leaving some uncertainty over their decisions and what those decisions will mean for the program.

“We’re not at the 100 percent mark and we want to be. We want to make sure that resettlement continues everywhere,” Smyers said.

This story has been updated with the current number of responses.