TOPEKA, Kan. (Feb. 22, 2016) – A Kansas bill would prohibit state cooperation with some contentious federal refugee resettlement programs. The legislation would take a significant step towards nullifying these programs in practice within the state.

A coalition of 22 representatives introduced House Bill 2661 (HB2661) on Feb. 10. The legislation would bar state participation or support of the resettlement of refugees from any country wholly or partially controlled by the Islamic State.

“No department, commission, board or agency of this state shall aid, cooperate with or assist in any way in the relocation of refugees from affected nations to Kansas, including, but not limited to, any relocation assistance provided under the Kansas refugee program, the refugee resettlement program, the refugee social service program, and the Kansas refugee preventive health program.”


HB2661 would not authorize the state to actively interfere with federal resettlement of refugees, but it would stop any and all state assistance. Practically speaking, passage of the bill would make resettlement of refugees Kansas 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 programs 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.”

HB2661 rests 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 HB2661 would drastically hinder refugee resettlement in Kansas. 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.

HB2661 was referred to the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs where it must pass by a majority vote before moving on to the full House for further consideration.

Mike Maharrey

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