JACKSON, Mississippi — Gov. Phil Bryant's distrust of President Barack Obama is flaring again.
The Republican is once more citing something he fears Washington will do in his decision for Mississippi to stop accepting new entrants to the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor program.
That program brings refugees younger than 21 to the United States legally and resettles them, providing safe haven for children who might otherwise be marooned in refugee camps.
Mississippi has long participated in the program. But Bryant says he believes Obama will take children who have been apprehended crossing the border illegally and try to cram them into the smaller refugee program, resettling some in Mississippi against Bryant's will. The governor is incensed that the federal government released more than 200 children who crossed the border illegally to live with sponsors in Mississippi without telling him first, and now won't tell him where they are.
"We don't know if any of the diseases or any of the problems that occurred in these countries are being brought into the United States, brought into our school systems," Bryant said Wednesday in an interview with the Supertalk radio network.
So he has ordered the state Department of Human Services to stop accepting new entrants into the refugee program, run by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Jackson, although the program will continue to care for the 27 refugees already here.
It's not the first time that Bryant has cited fear of possible future federal actions. In a decision that affects as many as 140,000 Mississippians, Bryant has steadfastly refused to have Mississippi expand its Medicaid program as envisioned under Obama's health overhaul. One of Bryant's biggest fears was that the state could be stuck with a huge bill if the federal government were to at some point cut funding.
Bryant even fought Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney's plan to set up a state-run exchange. The governor said in 2013 he believed some low-level employees or volunteers could somehow unilaterally force the state to expand Medicaid. When asked how that could happen, he told an Associated Press reporter: "I have gotten no assurances that that would not be the case."
Similarly, on the refugee program, he has called for federal assurances against his fears of something that no federal authority has actually proposed.
"But from this point on, I'm done, unless I can get some certainty that the president is not going to add another 200, another 400, unless I can make certain that this is not a gateway," Bryant said Wednesday.
Bryant is far from the first Mississippi governor to cite his fear of an overreaching federal government. That thread runs back at least as far as Fielding Wright, Mississippi's governor from 1946 to 1952. He ran for vice president on the ticket of the States' Rights Democratic Party, alongside fellow Dixiecrat Strom Thumond, then governor of South Carolina.
One of Mississippi's pioneering Republicans was Rubel Phillips, who in the wake of the federally enforced integration of the University of Mississippi in 1962 ran for governor with the slogan "K.O. the Kennedys."
Maybe Bryant won't run on the slogan of "K.O. Obama" when he seeks re-election next year. But in a state where Obama appears deeply unpopular among many voters, Bryant describes the president as an enemy to be resisted.
"Well, you see what's going to happen is when President Obama says 'I'm going to make all of them refugees,' then they will be here legally, if the president indeed has that authority," Bryant said. "I don't believe that he does."
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