Governors Can’t Stop Obama on Refugees, but Congress Can


More than half of America’s fifty governors—including a Democrat—refuse to accept President Obama’s Syrian refugees. Unfortunately for them, federal law allows the president to resettle as many refugees as he wants. But Congress can stop him.

Barack Obama has said that he will continue his plan to bring in Syrian refugees. But 31 governors—including Gov. Maggie Wood Hassan, the Democrat who leads New Hampshire—have publicly declared that they will not allow Obama to settle refugees in their states.

The governors are wrong, at least in part. Federal law, found at 8 U.S.C. § 1157(a)(1), authorizes any president to admit whatever number of refugees he believes “is justified by humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest.” The sections and subsection of the United States Code following that provision continue to lay out broad presidential powers, granting him all the authority he needs to bring in Syrian refugees.

But governors command state offices that are an integral part of this refugee-resettlement process. Governors can order their state personnel not to lift a finger to help the Obama administration, or to spend a single dollar of state money on the project. Obama would have to assign federal agents to bring these refugees to America, fly them to their new state, drive them to their new house (which the federal government would have to obtain for them), and take care of the all the logistical and physical needs that normally state and local staffs would handle or assist.

Obama can’t make the governors cooperate. In the 1997 case United States v. Printz, the Supreme Court declared that the Tenth Amendment’s limits on federal power include that no branch of the federal government—Congress, the Supreme Court, or the president—can require state or local officers to implement or assist any federal law or program. This anti-commandeering principle is a cornerstone of the constitutional system. The states are co-sovereigns with the federal government, equal in power and authority with Washington, D.C. The federal government has whatever powers the Constitution grants to it, with all other powers reserved to the states.

But Congress can stop Obama. Congress has plenary power over immigration, including admitting refugees. Congress can change federal law at any time. Congress can also refuse to renew funding for Obama to resettle refugees and insert explicit language into annual appropriations laws forbidding the various agencies of the federal government from spending a single dollar of federal money or assigning a single federal agent to carry out Obama’s resettlement efforts.

Obama wouldn’t even be able to drive the moving truck himself, because he wouldn’t be authorized to put fuel in the gas tank.

So Obama has a number of things he can do at the moment to carry out his plan, but it is a plan that would take years to carry out. Governors can make him go it alone from Day One, and Congress can make sure that his program’s days are numbered.

Ken Klukowski is legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.


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