Terry McAuliffe says he is powerless to bar Syrian refugees
"There is a lot of, unfortunately, political posturing going on today," the Democratic governor told WTOP radio's "Ask the Governor" morning program. McAuliffe, who has just returned from an 11-day trade mission to India and the Middle East, faces a growing backlash against resettling any Syrian refugees in the commonwealth.
A majority of governors around the country, most of them Republicans, have opposed federal plans to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States. McAuliffe has maintained that Virginia will be open to migrants from the war-torn country, but he faces stiff opposition from state Republicans.
"I can't change it," McAuliffe said. "I can't."
The governor — a vocal supporter of President Barack Obama and longtime friend of 2016 presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton — reiterated what his administration told AMI Newswire last week about the number of refugees who have been placed in the commonwealth.
"We've seen about 2,300 refugees a year come into Virginia from all over the globe," McAuliffe said. "Last year in Virginia, we saw about 25 Syrians. These people have all gone through very extensive, intensive screening, 18 to 24 months of screening. We have no Syrians in the pipeline today, I checked this morning."
In September, the Obama administration committed to accepting at least 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next fiscal year.
But since the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris that claimed 132 lives, a bipartisan group of 31 governors has made it clear their states will not welcome any Syrian refugees.
McAuliffe pushed back several times against this movement, saying: "United States federal law and the Constitution dictates this. There is not a single thing that a governor can do."
The federal government's Office of Refugee Resettlement points to language in the Refugee Act of 1980 that requires the agency "to the maximum extent possible, take into account recommendations of the State." But nowhere in the law are governors given the power to refuse refugee resettlement.
McAuliffe also took issue with calls to cut off funding for refugee resettlement. A group of Virginia Republican House members has promised legislation in the 2016 General Assembly session to prohibit state agencies from using public funds for resettlement activities.
The governor reiterated that he was at the mercy of the federal government when it comes to refugees.
"The folks involved in this process say that they are doing everything, that they are comfortable with the screening process," McAuliffe said. "I can't argue with that. They run it. I don't."
"But," he said, "we will continue, and I tell (Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security) Brian Moran every day, 'Make sure we're continually pushing and doing everything that we possibly can.' "
McAuliffe sounded a note of defiance at the end.
"I don't need to be spending my time on political rhetoric to try and score political points," he said.