Gov. Robert Bentley filed suit against the federal government over its refugee resettlement program Thursday, asking the judge to order federal officials to regularly report to the state on refugees bound for Alabama.
The suit comes less than two months after Bentley, in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, ordered state agencies not to cooperate with resettlement of Syrian refugees – if any try to settle in Alabama.
“The Refugee Act of 1980 requires the federal government to consult with the state regarding the placement of refugees before those refugees are placed within its borders,” Bentley’s lawsuit states. “That consultation has not occurred.”
Bentley in November issued an executive order barring state agencies from aiding the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the state. Refugee proponents decried the order as pointless – governors can’t bar anyone for their state once they enter the U.S. — and officials of the state’s only refugee resettlement program said they knew of no Syrians bound for the state. Bentley said that due to the difficulty of screening refugees from chaotic Syria, there were few safeguards to keep terrorists from using the refugee program to enter the country.
Bentley also wrote the White House asking that federal officials report to the state four times per year on the status of refugee resettlement in the state, something required under the 1980 law that governs much of the nation’s refugee program. Bentley has said those consultations haven’t been happening.
White House officials offered to do that reporting to multiple states through the National Governor’s Association, according to Bentley’s court complaint.
The governor is seeking an injunction that would require regular reports on refugees bound for Alabama, including “production of the federal government’s entire file on each refugee complete with medical history so the Alabama Medicaid Agency may appropriately oversee medical assistance.”
Attempts to reach Bentley’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Ardis were unsuccessful Thursday, as were efforts to reach Bob Spotswood, a Birmingham lawyer who filed the complaint in conjunction with the governor’s office.
Many states run their own refugee resettlement offices to work directly with the federal government on refugee issues. Alabama years ago handed over much of its refugee program to Catholic Social Services under the Wilson-Fish program, which allows states to opt out of doing
Lee Williams, vice president of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, said he’s not sure whether the Wilson-Fish program affects the federal government’s requirement to report directly to the state. USCRI, a resettlement organization, has criticized Bentley’s refugee-blocking order in the past.
“It’s hard to say,” Williams said. “Is the state fully engaged in the program? Is it a public-private partnership? Is it semi-Wilson-Fish?” Requirements could differ from state to state, he said.
Bentley’s suit also seeks reimbursement of lawyer’s fees, which would likely mean that either the state or the federal government would pick up the tab for the lawsuit.
State officials regularly hire Spotswood’s firm, Spotswood, Sansom and Sansbury to provide legal services, state spending records show. The firm received $54,736 in legal fees from the attorney general’s office in December.