Arizona House panel OKs bill allowing refusal of refugees

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Tempers flared Wednesday as an Arizona House panel passed a measure prompted by the Paris terror attacks that would allow the state to refuse to help resettle refugees if it can't ensure they have been properly screened and vetted for risks.

Republicans said they don't trust the federal government to properly vet incoming refugees. Democrats pleaded against passing another bill that would stereotype the state for demonizing foreigners.

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

"These refuges have trauma, they have war-related problems, that tells me that those people are going to need a huge amount of dollars from taxpayers," he said.

Arizona's Republican-controlled Legislature is one of several in the U.S. 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 Arizona Department of Economic Security operates the state's Refugee Resettlement Program, which is funded entirely through the federal government.

More than 3,600 refugees resettled in Arizona in the past budget year starting in July, according to legislative analysts. The state's refugees come from all over the world, including Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

The department received nearly $13 million in federal grants to help provide resettlement services including medical aid, employment and English-language assistance in the budget year starting last July.

Rep. Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, said Thorpe's measure is unnecessary since the program is federally funded.

"What it does do is send yet another message that we are motivated by fear, that we want to keep people out that don't look like us," she said.

Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, said he doesn't trust the government to do its job and there may be other costs to letting immigrants into the country.

"We all know how the government operates. You hear these great things about how we are going to vet people and it never happens and people come into this country and cause great damage," Campbell said adding later the country has been "overrun by immigrants and illegals."

The federal government subjects refugees to the highest level of security checks of any travelers headed to the U.S., according to a White House blog on refugee resettlement. Federal authorities check biometric data, identifying documents, criminal and medical records and travel history.

An Iraqi war veteran testified that now isn't the time for the state to discuss turning away refugees.

"We as American are not fearful. We are prudent and cautious," said Leonard Clark, a Phoenix native. "I don't want another voyage of the damned where (refugees) are turned back and murdered."

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.

The House committee on federalism passed both measures on a 5-3 vote Wednesday. The bills now undergo a standard review before going to a House vote.

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.

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