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SPLC Files Brief Challenging Alabama Lawsuit Over Refugee Settlement

Amid widespread anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment, the Southern Poverty Law Center files an amicus brief challenging the State of Alabama's lawsuit over refugee resettlement. 

Over the past year, anti-refugee sentiment focused on Syrians seeking to escape their war-torn country, has increased dramatically.

Even before the Obama administration announced in September 2015 that an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees would be resettled in the U.S. during the next fiscal year, the organized anti-Muslim movement in America was actively working to halt the relocation of these refugees, all under the guise of national security.

The two most influential anti-Muslim organizations in the United States, the Center for Security Policy (CSP) and ACT! for America, led an anti-refugee strategy that involved creating working groups of anti-Muslim activists in areas across the country willing to oppose Syrian refugee relocation, and creating model anti-refugee legislation at state and local levels.

When announcing its refugee resettlement working group plan, ACT!, which claims to have almost 300,000 members in over 1,000 chapters nationwide, promised these working groups would ensure “potential terrorists are kept on the outside looking in.”

Already, efforts to introduce anti-refugee or other anti-Muslim legislation have been successful.

In Montana, ACT! organized anti-refugee protests and held a meeting in late February to discuss the “risks” with refugee relocation. Less than two weeks later, Flathead County commissioners voted unanimously to send a letter opposing refugee relocation.

In January, CSP co-hosted a forum for Idaho legislators to convince them to introduce anti-refugee legislation. Though no lawmaker decided to heed CSP’s call, earlier this month, Rep. Eric Redman introduced an anti-Shariah bill into the legislature, citing a CSP report as his justification. In Kansas, Rep. Peggy Mast introduced an anti-refugee bill after “consulting” with CSP. Chris Holton, CSP’s vice president for outreach, testified in favor of Mast’s bill, claiming that its passage would set an example for other states.

Unfortunately, anti-refugee and specifically anti-Syrian refugee sentiment is not solely promoted and fostered by anti-Muslim hate groups such as ACT! and CSP. In November of 2015, 30 state governors, including Robert Bentley of Alabama, publically announced their opposition to the relocation of Syrian refugees to their state.

Bentley stated that although “[t]here have been no Syrian refugees in Alabama to date” and “no credible intelligence of any terrorist threats in Alabama,” he was unwilling to “place Alabamians at even the slightest, possible risk of attack on our people.” On Nov. 16, 2015, Bentley signed an Executive Order 14 granting all state agencies the authority to “utilize all lawful means to prevent the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the State of Alabama until this order is rescinded.”

Last Friday, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed an amicus brief with 19 other humanitarian and legal organizations, arguing that Alabama’s lawsuit against the federal government, asking that no refugees be relocated to the state pending Alabama’s demands for sufficient prior “consultation” with the federal government, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

“The vast overreach of the State’s demands is all the more evident because the governor has stated publicly that he knows of no credible terror threats facing Alabama, much less one posed by refugees,” the brief says.

The brief also contends that Alabama’s reasons for pursuing the lawsuit are Gov. Robert Bentley’s “transparent animus against Syrian refugees in particular,” and notes the state’s repeated efforts over the past five years to target groups of unpopular immigrants.

The signatories to the brief have provided humanitarian and legal support to immigrants suffering as a result of the anti-immigrant policies pursued by Alabama officials over the past five years, and have worked to combat the climate of anti-immigrant hostility and discrimination engendered by these policies. 

You can read the brief here.

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