Following the November terrorist attack in Paris, Governor Deal issued an executive order that was intended to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Georgia. In an interview with reporters earlier this month, Deal indicated he might file a lawsuit against the feds to prevent Syrian resettlement, and would order a defense by the state against any federal lawsuit arising from the state’s unwillingness to aid in the resettlement process.
However, Governor Deal also asked Attorney General Sam Olens to issue an opinion on whether Syrian refugee resettlement could be blocked. That opinion was issued today. In it, Olens said that blocking refugees from a specific country was not permissible under the law:
Essentially, and to the extent it is read most broadly, the scope of the executive order is limited by two things: (1) federal law and the Supremacy Clause and (2) the terms of its voluntary agreement with the federal government to participate in, and accept federal funding relating to, the Refugee Resettlement Program. I am unaware of any law or agreement that would permit a state to carve out refugees from particular countries from participation in the refugee resettlement program, no matter how well-intended or justified the desire to carve out such refugees might be. Accordingly, it is my official opinion that both federal law and the State’s agreement to act as the state refugee resettlement coordinator prevent the State from denying federally-funded benefits to Syrian refugees lawfully admitted into the United States.
In his opinion, Olens indicated he shared the governor’s concerns, and hoped that the federal government would do its best to scrutinize incoming refugees.
[T]he executive order responds to serious concerns about recent terrorist attacks linked to the ongoing conflict in Syria, concerns that legitimately extend to the current federal process for reviewing and accepting refugees from Syria into the United States and, more specifically, into the State of Georgia. I share those concerns and similarly hope that the federal government will take all necessary and appropriate steps to assure that all refugees, regardless of country of origin, be carefully scrutinized to ensure the safety of our citizens.
The governor’s office is reviewing Olens’s opinion.