Florida House Speaker Threatens to Ban Refugees From State, Thanks Trump for Muslim Ban

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran Florida House of Representatives
Richard Corcoran, the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, is ardently pro-life. He's spoken before the Florida Family Policy Council, a pro "human life" (read: anti-abortion) advocacy group, and earlier this month expressed public support for the anti-abortion "March for Life" in Washington, D.C.

But Corcoran's concern for human life does not apparently extend to living, breathing victims of war, including people whose lives have been destroyed after attacks carried out by United States forces.

On Friday, that same "pro-human-life" legislator wrote President Donald Trump a letter, thanking him for instituting his ban on Muslim refugees, adding that he was worried that the Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan refugees already settled in Florida last year posed a "legitimate" security risk, due to "terrorism."

He also said the Florida House of Representatives is "seriously re-evaluating" whether the state will continue to accept refugees. He then requested to meet with Trump officials in the near future.

Other Florida politicians, like U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, have spoken out in favor of the Muslim ban — but Corcoran is one of the few people nationwide who seems willing to take Trump's message even further.

"Your bold action in recent executive orders demonstrates that enforcement of immigration laws and security of our borders are more than just campaign promises and will be priorities in your administration," Corcoran wrote. "Thank you for fighting to correct past neglect, and, on behalf of the Florida House of Representatives, I offer my support."

He then complained that Florida is not allowed to institute its own refugee-vetting procedures, even though doing so would clearly violate the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which states that federal laws supersede state rules when the two clash. The U.S. Supreme Court held in 2011 that states cannot set up immigration laws. If Florida wanted to legally set up its own vetting procedures, Trump and the United States Congress would first need to overhaul the federal immigration process.

However, once the federal government vets those immigrants, they are sent to state-controlled refugee resettlement programs. States have a bit of flexibility over how they handle those immigrants: The state of Wyoming, for example, does not operate a resettlement program at all. Last year, Montana accepted refugees for the first time in 25 years.

Corcoran said that in 2016, 700 Syrians, 300 Iraqis, and 200 Afghans were resettled in Florida. But he also said that letting in refugees could lead to terrorism, despite the fact that no U.S. refugee has ever carried out a terrorist attack.

"Despite the state's legitimate concern with security risks — a concern even more compelling in Florida given recent tragedies perpetrated by terrorists — there is no opportunity for Florida to institute more rigorous scrutiny of people coming to our state and receiving our services," he wrote.

Both of the two major terror attacks to occur in Florida last year — June's Pulse Nightclub attack and December's Fort Lauderdale airport shooting — were carried out by men born in the United States.

Also, despite both Corcoran and Trump's rhetoric, refugees are already put through a comprehensive, rigorous vetting process, including applications with both the U.S. and United Nations, multiple interviews, background checks, fingerprint screenings, and other safeguards.

Corcoran did not respond to two calls to his office yesterday. His spokesman, Fred Piccolo, did not respond to an email message from New Times either. Tampa Bay Times reporter Alex Leary first posted the letter online:

Corcoran ended his letter to Trump by complaining that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — which was responsible for vetting refugees until Trump temporarily suspended the refugee program Friday — did not give Florida officials any input on the refugees it resettled in the Sunshine State.  He claimed the Department of Homeland Security was not letting the state "differentiate between true refugees and persons who pose a threat to Florida."

Given the fact that Corcoran appears to be a man of faith, now seems like a good time to remind folks that Pope Francis said in October that turning your back on victims of war violates the core tenets of Christianity. Chicago's archbishop also said last Sunday that Trump's Muslim ban ushered in a "dark moment" in U.S history.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.