Arizona bill aims to give state the right to refuse refugees

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Legislation being proposed by an Arizona House Republican would allow the state to refuse to help resettle refugees if it can't ensure they have been properly screened and vetted for terrorism risks.

Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, said Tuesday the measure also would require the federal government's refugee resettlement program to reimburse the state for any costs it incurs.

Another bill by Republican House Speaker David Gowan requires an audit of the refugee resettlement program and state costs. Gowan says his House Bill 2691 was prompted by safety concerns.

Gov. Doug Ducey previously called for a pause in refugee resettlement in Arizona after terrorist attacks in Paris in November. But he conceded the state has no oversight of the program other than consulting with federal officials.

His spokesman, Daniel Scarpinato, said Tuesday that concerns remain about the vetting process of refugees and the governor's role in protecting the security of Arizonans.

Scarpinato declined to say whether the earlier determination that federal law prevailed over immigration policy would preclude state action such as those proposed this week.

Thorpe said he believes Arizona does have a say in refugee resettlements, even if immigration law falls under federal government duties.

"We're a sovereign state — I truly believe we should have a say in it," Thorpe said about his House Bill 2370. "I want to make sure that this person isn't going to come here and do bodily harm to our citizens, isn't showing up with severe communicable health issues, things like that."

Arizona's Republican-controlled Legislature is one of several considering bills pushing back against the resettlement program.

Florida lawmakers are considering legislation allowing the governor to use military force to keep out immigrants or refugees from countries outside the Western Hemisphere.

South Carolina's Legislature is considering a proposal requiring state police to track refugees coming to the state and hold their sponsors liable for damages if they commit an act of terrorism.

The ongoing refugee crisis stems from the civil war in Syria. The push to block refugees was prompted by the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds.

Thorpe conceded Arizona may not have the power to stop federal immigration action, but he wants to try anyway.

"I would much rather be wrong and be told so by a judge as opposed to sitting back and doing nothing," Thorpe said. "My attitude toward the feds, if they're overreaching their authority here in Arizona I want to push back.

Another Thorpe bill filed as House Bill 2682 requires organizations that house unaccompanied minors caught on the U.S.-Mexico border to get licenses and face inspections.