(Jan. 24, 2016) – Bills introduced in Florida, Virginia and Arizona would prohibit state cooperation with some contentious federal refugee resettlement programs, a significant step towards nullifying them in practice within those states.

Two separate bills were recently introduced in Virginia. House Bill 852 (HB852), sponsored by Del. Timothy Hugo (R), and House Bill 494 (HB494), sponsored by Del. Bob Marshall (R) would both bar state agencies and political subdivisions from providing any resources or assistance to the federal resettlement of refugees from any country designated a state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. State Department.

HB494 provides an exception, allowing state assistance if “the refugee has been subjected to thorough background investigations sufficient to determine whether the refugee is a threat to the security of the United States conducted by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).”

Florida House Bill 1095 (H1095) sponsored by Rep. Lake Ray (R), along with eight cosponsors, would prohibit the state, its political subdivisions, their agencies and employees, along with any persons receiving state funds, from assisting with entry into or resettlement in state of any refugees who originate from, or in close proximity to, areas known to produce terrorists.

HB1096 would also require agencies working with resettled refugees to provide identifying information, including fingerprints, of all foreign refugees or immigrants.

Sen. Wilton Simpson introduced companion a bill in the Senate with identical provisions (S1712).

A coalition of seven Republican representatives in Arizona introduced House Bill 2370 (HB2370). The legislation would prohibit the state from using any personnel or financial resources to enforce, administer or cooperate with any action of the United States government that places within the state any refugee, unaccompanied alien child or other person who is not a citizen of the United States unless they have undergone a thorough background check and the federal government as agreed to reimburse the state of Arizona for any expenses incurred in the resettlement process, including ongoing costs.

The Arizona bill is a practical implementation of Proposition 122, a voter-approved amendment to the state constitution in 2014 that provides a mechanism for refusing state resources to federal programs.


None of these state bills would actively interfere with federal resettlement of Middle Eastern Refugees, but they would stop any and all state assistance. Practically speaking, passage of these bills would make resettlement of refugees in Florida, Virginia and Arizona extremely difficult.

Private voluntary agencies generally handle refugee reception and placement services, but various state and local agencies facilitate the federal refugee resettlement program.

These state program provides vital cash, medical and social service assistance. In other words, the federal government depends on significant state action to resettle refugees. Without state administration of the federal program, it would be difficult to successfully resettle refugees. Even Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress agrees, saying such policies would “potentially make settlement of refugees more difficult than it would be if the states cooperated.”

These state bills rest on a rock-solid legal foundation known as the anti-commandeering doctrine. The Supreme Court has consistently held that the federal government cannot force states to provide resources for, or assist in implementing, any federal acts or programs. The Supreme Court established this doctrine primarily through four cases dating all the way back Prigg v. Pennsylvania in 1842.

Some states have used the same legal principle to establish “sanctuary cities” to limit cooperation with ICE.

Practically speaking, passage of any of these bills would drastically hinder refugee resettlement in the respective states. While resettlement is a federal policy, the feds depend on state cooperation to implement it. Without state help, the likelihood of any resettlement happening is greatly reduced.

Each bill will need to pass through its respective chamber’s committee process before moving on to the full House or Senate for further consideration.

Mike Maharrey

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