Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens Wednesday released an official legal opinion stating that per the Refugee Act of 1980, the state can not legally block refugees from being resettled in Georgia.
The opinion comes following Governor Deal’s statements last month where he asked President Obama to stop bringing in refugees from Syria until a better screening process could be put in place, and went on to say that he had, “issued an executive order directing state agency heads to prevent the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Georgia”.
Immediately those in the media began to question the statements made by Deal and others, including Texas Governor Greg Abbot, regarding the legality of barring refugees from entering their states. Multiple cases were brought up, including the 1941 Supreme Court case Hines v. Davidowitz which designates the federal government as the supreme power regarding immigration, as well as the aforementioned Refugee Act of 1980 which states that the Executive Branch reserves the power to admit refugees facing “persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”
So the state has to accept refugees, and accept it has, with one Syrian family already being settled in the state following the Governor’s executive order. That doesn’t mean Deal can’t follow through with his threat though – the Georgia Department of Human Services has already sent out an office-wide memo saying to hold off on processing any new benefit assistance forms for Syrian refugees.
This puts Deal at odds with Olen’s opinion, which states in conclusion that, “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.”
The Governor’s office has yet to issue a statement regarding the Attorney General’s legal opinion, but you can bet that Deal won’t be happy about being rebuked in this manner. Furthermore even if the issue does go away quietly, which seems unlikely at this point, expect to see it come up again as Olens sets his sights on higher office in coming years.