Maine Gov. Paul LePage joined several Republican governors Monday who said they would not allow Syrian refugees to be admitted into their states after Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris.

“To bring Syrian refugees into our country without knowing who they are is to invite an attack on American soil just like the one we saw in Paris last week and in New York City on 9/11,” LePage said in a written statement late Monday. “That is why I adamantly oppose any attempt by the federal government to place Syrian refugees in Maine, and will take every lawful measure in my power to prevent it from happening.”

States cannot dictate federal immigration policy, so it’s unlikely any governor would be able to stop the federal government from settling refugees. Lavinia Limon, president and chief executive of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigration, said in a written statement Monday that governors cannot legally block refugees from settling in their communities.

Nevertheless, 15 Republican governors and one Democrat – New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan – made declarations Monday in response to a series of attacks carried out Friday by Islamic State terrorists in Paris that killed 129 people and wounded hundreds more. The investigation into the attacks is ongoing, including whether any of the terrorists came to Europe as a refugee, possibly from Syria, which has been ravaged by conflict since 2011.

President Obama has said the U.S. would continue with its plan to accept up to 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016. He also said Syrian refugees are the ones being harmed by terrorists and deserve compassion, not to be labeled dangerous.

LePage and others were critical of the president.


“The safety of Maine citizens comes first, and it is about time the United States and Europe wake up to the nature of the threat against us in the form of radical terrorism,” LePage said.

Earlier in the day, LePage commented on the issue at a briefing with reporters at the State House, but did not say at that time that he opposed Syrian refugees in Maine.

“I’m with them … because I’m concerned for Maine people, period,” the governor said in response to a question about other governors’ actions, according to WCSH-TV. “I want to protect Maine people. You remember 9/11? I think some people came through Maine? And they did a lot of damage in New York. I think we need to be very diligent, very on top of this issue.”

Asked Monday morning to clarify the governor’s comment, spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said the governor did not say Maine would reject refugees. She said he planned to attend the Republican Governors Association annual conference in Las Vegas this week and hoped to discuss the resettlement issue with other Republican state leaders.

“He would like to talk to other Republican governors as to what they’re going to be doing and gather more information as to what is the most appropriate action moving forward,” she said.

By Monday afternoon, however, the governor was more forceful in stating that he would use any lawful measure to keep Syrian refugees from settling in Maine.


“We now know that not only has ISIS claimed credit for this attack, but at least one of the attackers was a Syrian refugee,” he said. “We also know that President Barack Obama has vowed to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees to the United States, despite his own FBI director testifying to Congress last month that the federal government is unable to conduct background checks on them.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine called on policymakers to embrace a more welcoming attitude toward those fleeing brutal violence.

“We are saddened by calls from our governor and others to turn our backs on the world’s most vulnerable people when they need us the most,” said Alison Beyea, director of ACLU Maine. “If we shut out refugees fleeing the horror and violence of extremists in Syria, we are refusing to help the victims of the very terrorism we decry.”

Senate Democratic leader Justin Alfond of Portland had the same concerns.

“Gov. LePage’s comments are morally repugnant,” Alfond said. “Our allies in France, and the world, are still reeling from the terrorist attacks on Paris and the governor is already using those attacks to promote his shallow, anti-immigrant agenda.

“This kind of brazen opportunism is indefensible. The governor is purposefully conflating terrorists with the people they are terrorizing.”


However, other Republican governors, along with several members of Congress and Republican presidential candidates, say the attacks should be a warning to the U.S. regarding its immigration policies.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said in a written statement that he would “do everything humanly possible to stop any plans from the Obama administration to put Syrian refugees in Mississippi.”

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, also in a written statement, said the security of U.S. citizens cannot be sacrificed to provide a welcome destination for refugees.

“Therefore, the state of Illinois will temporarily suspend accepting new Syrian refugees and consider all of our legal options pending a full review of our country’s acceptance and security processes by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security,” Rauner said.

The federal government does not notify states when refugees are resettled. Bennett said Maine’s state government has no way of knowing whether there are Syrians resettled in Maine today, and that the Department of Health and Human Services is working to make contact with nonprofit organizations in the state that have resettled refugees of other conflicts in the past.

According to Catholic Charities Maine, the major organization that works with refugees, there have been no refugees from Syria brought to Maine in 2015, and there was one in 2014. Nationwide, about 1,200 Syrian refugees have been placed since 2011.


A spokesman for Catholic Charities did not return a call Monday for comment, but on its website, the organization indicated that if any refugees from Syria were placed in Maine, it wouldn’t happen for one to two years because of the lengthy screening process.

Generally, Maine has been a secondary migration point for refugees, which means they are first processed elsewhere. That secondary migration can take up to a year or more.

As the calls from Republicans grew louder Monday, the Council of American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy organization, responded by calling those who opposed refugees as “un-American.”

“Defeating ISIS involves projecting American ideals to the world,” the group said in a statement. “This un-American rejection of refugees, who will face significant security checks prior to entry, sends entirely the wrong message. Governors who reject those fleeing war and persecution abandon our ideals and instead project our fears to the world.”

Staff Writer Matt Byrne contributed to this report.


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