Governor Christie, who opposes humanitarian efforts to settle Syrian refugees in New Jersey and warns that even widows and orphans “could be connected to terrorism,” conceded for the first time Friday that he does not have the power to stop any refugees from settling anywhere.
“I sent a letter out making it very clear to people that we didn’t want them,” Christie told Fox News radio host Brian Kilmeade, referencing a Nov. 17 letter the governor sent to President Obama calling for a refugee ban.
“Here is the problem, Brian: The federal government can override us and they are,” Christie said. “The president has made it clear he is not going to listen to any request from any governor not to accept these folks. Since immigration is still a federal issue, the fact is they are going to be able to continue to do what they are doing.”
Running for the Republican presidential nomination as a law-and-order candidate, Christie often tells crowds that, as a former U.S. attorney, he is the only candidate who knows how to “prosecute terrorists.”
That pitch seems to be resonating in New Hampshire, a key state that holds the first presidential primary. Christie’s poll numbers began to rise there after the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 last month.
In New Jersey, a family of Syrian refugees was settled in Paterson late last month. Christie had left open questions as to whether he would seek to remove them or seek to block federal assistance funds from getting to them. Those questions were answered Friday.
“I sent a letter, Brian, there is nothing else for me to do,” Christie told Kilmeade.
In the days after the Paris attacks, Christie drew criticism from Obama and others for demanding a ban on all Syrian refugees seeking asylum in the United States. The Obama administration has announced plans to settle 10,000 such refugees who are fleeing the terrorist Islamic State group that has taken over parts of Iraq and Syria. GOP front-runner Donald Trump has since called for an even broader ban on all Muslim immigration.
In his November letter to the president, Christie wrote, “I will not accept any refugees from Syria in the wake of the deadly Paris terrorist attacks.”
But this month, Christie began to hedge his statements.
‘A federal decision’
“In the end, it’s not my decision. It’s a federal decision,” Christie told reporters Dec. 1 in Manchester, N.H. “It’s immigration law, and the president gets to decide.”
Christie added that he would get a briefing from his staff in Trenton later that week to see “if there are options available to me under the law.”
A spokesman for Christie, Kevin Roberts, said Friday that after being briefed the governor found there was no action he could take.
But Roberts reiterated Christie’s criticism of the vetting process the United States uses to screen refugees. FBI Director James B. Comey has expressed doubts about the government’s ability to vet so many refugees within the time frame set by the Obama administration.
“Until the FBI director has confidence in the process, the governor will not have confidence in the process,” Roberts said.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson responded in a letter to 25 governors last month, noting that “the overwhelming majority of Syrian refugees we have accepted and will accept are families, victims of torture, and children.”
“Bottom line — under the current system, if there is any doubt about whether an applicant would pose a security risk, that individual will not be admitted to the United States as a refugee,” they wrote.