" “If we shut out refugees fleeing the horror and violence of extremists in Syria, we are refusing to help the victims of the very terrorism we decry.” — Alison Beyea,executive director, ACLU of Maine "

Following the attacks in Paris that killed 129 people last Friday, Gov. Paul LePage once again pulled Maine into a bitter national immigration debate. Press reports have so far identified two of the Paris suspects as French nationals along with alleged mastermind Abdelhamid Abaa-oud of Belgium. What is believed to be a fake Syrian passport was found near one of the suicide bombers. According to The Guardian newspaper, Greek officials confirmed that the passport holder registered as a refugee after crossing the border through the Greek island of Leros. Authorities have yet to confirm the identity of the bomber. However, taking the passport as evidence that the bomber was a Syrian refugee, on Monday LePage joined 24 mostly Republican governors to oppose the resettlement of Syrians in their states.

“To bring Syrian refugees into our country without knowing who they are is to invite an attack on American soil just like the one we saw in Paris last week and in New York City on 9/11,” said LePage in his weekly radio address. “That is why I adamantly oppose any attempt by the federal government to place Syrian refugees in Maine, and will take every lawful measure in my power to prevent it from happening.”

The governor’s comments prompted a sharp response from the Maine ACLU and Sen. Justin Alfond (D-Portland), who called LePage’s statement “morally repugnant.”

“We are saddened by calls from our governor and others to turn our backs on the world’s most vulnerable people, when they need us the most,” wrote Alison Beyea, executive director of the ACLU of Maine. “If we shut out refugees fleeing the horror and violence of extremists in Syria, we are refusing to help the victims of the very terrorism we decry.”

The governor’s remarks came after President Obama announced that he would not reverse his decision to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. in the next year, stating that “Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values.” The U.S. has so far accepted 1,854 Syrian refugees as of September, while Germany has accepted nearly 93,000 refugees, according to the New York Times. The U.S. State Department estimates that about 250,000 people have been killed in Syria since the civil war began four years ago and about 4 million Syrians are refugees in neighboring countries.



According to Catholic Charities of Maine, the agency that is officially in charge of refugee resettlement in the state, only one Syrian refugee has been resettled in Maine since the war began. The organization stated on its website that it does not anticipate any refugee arrivals from Syria for another one to two years due to the lengthy pre-screening process. CCM noted that resettlements are assigned by the State Department and it typically receives notification of a new refugee’s arrival, including the country of origin, only two weeks prior to their arrival.

It’s unclear how the governor plans to stop the federal government from resettling a handful of Syrian refugees in Maine, other than by “using his platform” and “being vocal,” as his press secretary Adrienne Bennett put it to WVOM radio on Tuesday. Bennett complained that the Obama administration has left Maine “largely in the dark” about when and where refugees are being resettled. She said staffers were busy combing databases to gather information about refugees in the state. 

Other state leaders like Texas Governor Greg Abbott have taken a more aggressive stance by announcing their refusal to accept any Syrian refugees. But governors don’t have any Constitutional authority to restrict immigration or migration from other states. Under the Refugee Act of 1980, the president has the authority to accept refugees who are “persecuted or [have a] well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” 

At the federal level, some Republicans have begun calling for a moratorium on granting visas for refugees because of the attacks. On Monday, Congressman Bruce Poliquin expressed his “strong support” for a measure to halt the country’s refugee resettlement program until “major reforms” are made “to ensure Americans are safe.”

Meanwhile, Catholic Charities of Maine says that there are several ways Mainers can help refugees fleeing violence and war — by either contributing financially online through its website, organizing community fundraisers, volunteering or donating furniture and household items to furnish refugee households. For more information, visit www.ccmaine.org/.