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BC Expert: Legal Issues Related to Syrian Refugees

Kari Hong

510 384-4524 (Cell) 617-552-4390 (o);

Kari Hong’s areas of specialization are immigration law, immigration consequences of criminal convictions, criminal law, family law and LGBT rights. Prior to joining Boston College, Hong operated her own firm with offices in California and Oregon where she specialized in immigration and criminal law. Hong has prepared more than 90 actions in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, representing non-citizens in asylum, removal defense, citizenship claims, and criminal defendants accused of white collar crimes, violent felonies and drug-related offenses. She has prepared more than 40 state criminal appeals in the state of California. An expert in family law and marriage, Hong's scholarship focuses on the parent-child relationship with a particular emphasis on how family doctrines are altered or distorted when applied in other legal areas. Hong’s articles have been published in the University of Virginia Law Review and the Georgetown Immigration Law Journal and have been cited by the New Jersey Supreme Court.


The call by Republican presidential candidate Donald trump to bar all Muslims from immigrating to the United States is isimply not realistic nor enforceable. 

Boston College Law Assistant Professor Kari Hong, an immigration lawyer, says while past U.S. policies have discouraged immigration based on certain political views - such as support for Nazism or terrorism - Trump’s proposal goes too far. 

“There is no precedent to keep out populations of people based on religion alone,” says Hong, a veteran of asylum/removal defense cases. “Likewise, the proposal is too broad.  Trump's proposal would extend to any lawful permanent resident---including one who is a military veteran---from returning home to the U.S. from an overseas vacation if he or she is a Muslim.”  

Hong says a president is not able to keep out any individuals, even if he got Congress to go along with the idea.

“Congress could pass a law banning people from a specific religion but it likely would not be constitutional or workable.  There is an incredible amount of deference given to Congress on immigration policy, but banning one-quarter of the world's population would not meet the low threshold needed to justify a policy.  Absent a showing that one-quarter of the world's population poses a threat, the policy would be struck down in court.”


“After the Paris attack, it is understandable why people have a heightened concern over security,” says Boston College Law Assistant Professor Kari Hong, an immigration lawyer and veteran of asylum/removal defense cases. “However, the two proposals to stop Syrian refugees from entering specific states or our country are without legal authority. I see no legal means on how to create such a targeted result.”

Congressional leaders are considering a “suspension” of accepting Syrian refugees. While the body doesn’t have the legal authority to alter or halt the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. - only the President does - Congress can withhold funding, but only to the entire refugee program, not a specific class. 

“The President could decide tomorrow that no refugees will be accepted from a specific country, but Congress cannot designate the country or numbers like the President can,” says Hong. “It can only end the help to Syrians by ending the help to all. 

“Of course, doing so would take away the protections for those around the globe to whom we are seeking to protect from harm.  Also, the refugee process takes between 18 and 24 months.  Defunding the program today would impact refugees from other countries and not the Syrian refugees some are worried about.”

In recent days, governors in the majority of states have said they will refuse to accept Syrian refugees, but they don't have the legal authority to enforce that outcome. 

“Their rhetoric is empty,” says Hong. “Only the federal government can determine who can and cannot enter our country's border.  If someone is granted legal permission to be here, that person is allowed to live, work, and visit anywhere in the 50 states.  We have the constitutional right to movement and travel.  For more than a century, the Supreme Court has extended those constitutional rights to non-citizens as long as they too had permission to be in our country, which all refugees have.  There is no legal or constitutional basis to reconsider this rule.”





Note to media: Contact information for additional Boston College faculty sources on a range of subjects is available at:  /offices/pubaf/journalist/experts.html


Sean Hennessey
Boston College News & Public Affairs
617-552-3630 (o)
617-943-4323 (c)