Equity: No Governor, You Can't Do That

Nov 20, 2015

There are actions governors can take about their concerns over Syrian refugees, but keeping them out of their states — even temporarily — is not one.  So says the emeritus professor whose textbook on immigration is used by about 185 law schools in the country.

“It’s clear that the governor would have no authority to exclude Syrian refugees (or anyone else) from Illinois,’’ says Stephen Legomsky, professor emeritus at Washington University in St. Louis.  “Immigration policy is the exclusive province of the federal government, not the states.  On that point, the law has been crystal clear for more than 100 years.”

Legomsky’s former jobs include serving as senior counsel to the U. S.  Secretary of Homeland Security on Immigration Services and former Chief Counsel of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“I have to say, without trying to sound too harsh, that those statements have been very irresponsible.  I think the vast majority of governors are well aware they don’t have this power, and so to say these things knowing this is very disingenuous,’’ Legomsky says. “About those governors who’ve talked about blocking access to Syrian refugees after terrorist attacks in France, he says, “ Perhaps there are governors who really don’t realize the limits of state power and, that of course, raises the competence issue, but in most cases the governors are well aware of what they’re doing, and really it amounts to nothing more than political posturing.

But Legomsky says there are roles for states.

He says typically state agencies act in a pass-through role when resettlement occurs, sending federal funds through the state.