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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida officials want to refuse 4,460 refugees



State officials say they will refuse to support 4,460 refugees the federal government plans to place in Florida this year.

In response to the federal government’s request to up the number of refugees from across the world headed for Florida this year, Patti Grogan, the state’s refugee services director, wrote, “we will not support the requests we have received to an already overburdened system.”

(Read the federal government's request and the response from the state of Florida.)

At the heart of the denial are concerns raised by Gov. Rick Scott — and 30 other governors nationwide — in November after terrorist bombings in Paris.

In an email sent Tuesday evening to State Department officials, Grogan wrote that Florida won’t accept refugees until three demands are met:

* “The alleviation of our concerns about the vetting process.”
* Federal officials agree to share background information about every refugee being settled in the state with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
* FDLE is allowed to do its own screening of refugees.

Legal experts say governors and state agencies don’t have the power to refuse refugees. The Department of Children and Families works with nonprofit refugee placement agencies around the state to help resettle refugees, but it cannot close the door to them altogether.

"No state can tell legal immigrants where they can live," Andrew Schoenholtz, director of the Human Rights Institute at Georgetown University Law Center, told PolitiFact in November. "They’re entitled to live anywhere."

The initial State Department request sent Jan. 4 by Kiera Berdinner, program officer for U.S. Refugee Admissions, asked the state to provide input on increasing the maximum capacity for each refugee resettlement agency in Florida.

Taking the increases into account, the federal government is asking to send as many as 1,185 refugees to the Tampa Bay area and as many as 1,338 to South Florida.

Much of the recent months’ angst about refugees has settled around those fleeing civil war in Syria. But refugees come to Florida and the United States from all over the world. In 2015, the state accepted 2,709 refugees. Just 104 were from Syria. But the Obama administration has promised to increase the number of Syrian refugees accepted by the U.S.

[Last modified: Wednesday, January 20, 2016 12:57pm]


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