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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman November 20, 2015

Do federal officials plan to send 425 Syrian refugees to Florida as Rick Scott says?

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has joined dozens of governors who say they don’t want to take Syrian refugees following the terrorist attacks in Paris.

He criticized the federal government’s plans to take 10,000 Syrian refugees during an interview with Fox News’ Stuart Varney on Nov. 17.

"This is something that they are making the decision, whether we like it or not, to send 425 refugees to our state without giving us any information."

Is Scott right that the feds have decided to send 425 Syrian refugees to Florida with no input from the state? We decided to check it out.

Do the feds decide on the number of refugees for Florida?

Americans have zeroed in on Syrian refugees following the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, because a supposed Syrian passport was found near the body of one of the terrorists.We should note that is not confirmed; the passport may have been fake, and investigations are underway. The six Paris attackers identified so far were French and Belgian nationals.

For the most recent year ending in September, Florida took in 48,816 refugees, with the largest group from Cuba. That number included 104 people from Syria, which has been in a civil war since 2011. Most of the Syrians settled in Duval, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade and Pinellas counties. (We explained the process of extensive background checks in our PolitiFact Sheet.)

President Barack Obama announced in September that the federal government would accept an additional 10,000 refugees from Syria for the next year, for a total of 85,000 refugees from all countries.

So who decides how many come to Florida?

Scott said that the federal government made the decision to send 425. While the federal government is in charge of resettlement, the actual number comes from agencies within local communities in Florida. (Politico also noted this in a report on Scott's comments.)

At the beginning of each federal fiscal year, the State Department works with nine national volunteer agencies to allocate the number of refugees per agency. They take into account factors such as whether the refugees have family members in certain states, their employment and educational backgrounds, and if they have any health concerns, according to Mark Hetfield, the president and CEO of HIAS, formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

In Florida, there are 25 local affiliates that are a part of those national groups. The local affiliates in Miami, Tampa, Clearwater and other cities inform the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the U.S. State Department how many refugees from across the globe the affiliates can handle for the fiscal year.

For the current year, the total added up to 3,942, according to DCF. And that’s the number that the federal government signed off on for Florida.

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Recently, the government asked states if they could accept more refugees. On Nov. 9, Lawrence Bartlett, a State Department official, wrote a letter to DCF noting that Obama increased the maximum number of Syrian refugees and would ask the nonprofit groups how many additional refugees they could take.

Local affiliates told state and federal officials they could take an additional 425 refugees. Technically, those 425 aren’t all guaranteed to be Syrians, according to DCF, but the Syrian crisis is what prompted the request.

So far, federal officials haven’t approved any particular number for Florida.

"We don’t know how many Syrians will be resettled into any one state or city at this point," Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, told PolitiFact Florida. "Regarding the local agencies' letter saying they can take an additional 425 refugees, it is likely that we can expect there will be a similar letter approving that number as well. Those 425 refugees will come from all over the world."

That means that officially, the federal government hasn’t decided yet to send 425 refugees to Florida, but it appears possible that that will end up being the number -- although they may not all be Syrians.

When we asked Scott’s office about his media appearances quoting the 425 figures, it pointed us to more cautious wording that Scott used in a Nov. 16 letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asking them to cut off funding for the resettlement:

"Please be aware that several organizations have requested that our state Department of Children and Families support the relocation of possible 425 Syrian refugees to Florida, as they receive federal funding to house those refugees in our state."

Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz told PolitiFact Florida that "in his letter he was very clear to say ‘possible 425.’ ... The governor is very concerned -- it could be 425. All we know is it is possibly 425."

Scott has a point when he says the refugees get sent to the states "whether we like it or not." The Refugee Act of 1980 says the federal government is expected "to the maximum extent possible" to take states’ concerns into account, but there are no legal consequences if federal officials ignore governors such as Scott. State officials don’t have veto power, because the federal government has the sole authority over immigration decisions, including refugees.

Our ruling

Rick Scott says the federal government is "making the decision, whether we like it or not, to send 425 refugees to our state" from Syria.

Scott’s statement makes it sound like federal officials came up with a number of refugees and dictated that Florida must take them in. That’s misleading, because the number came from local resettlement agencies, which reported to the federal government how many additional refugees they could handle within the next year. Those refugees might or might not all be Syrians, though it seems likely they would be.

Scott has a point that the power to resettle refugees lies with the federal government, and he can’t halt the refugees from coming to Florida.

We rate this statement Half True.


Our Sources

Politico, "State Department punctures Scott’s Syrian refugee claim," Nov. 18, 2015

Florida Department of Children and Families, Affiliate chart, November 2015

U.S. Department of State, Letter from Lawrence Bartlett, director of Office of Refugee Admissions, to Florida Department of Children and Families, Nov. 9, 2015

Fox News, Interview with Gov. Rick Scott, Nov. 17, 2015

Fox News, Interview with Gov. Rick Scott, Nov. 18, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott, Letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Nov. 16, 2015

Letter from 27 Republican governors to President Barack Obama, Nov. 20, 2015

New York Times, "Obama increases the number of Syrian refugees for resettlement to 10,000," Sept. 10, 2015

Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times, "Gov. Rick Scott calls on Congress to oppose Syrian refugees," Nov. 16, 2015

Tampa Bay Times, "Once ‘welcoming’ Hillsborough County now debates taking in Syrian refugees," Nov. 20, 2015

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump said Obama administration is pushing refugees toward states with GOP governors," Nov. 18, 2015

PolitiFact, PolitiFact Sheet: Five questions about Syrian refugees, Nov. 19, 2015

Interview, Jackie Schutz, Gov. Rick Scott spokeswoman, Nov. 19, 2015

Interview, Jessica Sims, Florida Department of Children and Families spokeswoman, Nov. 19, 2015

Interview, Mark Toner, U.S. Department of State spokesman, Nov. 19, 2015


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