State Governors Say They’ll Reject Syrian Refugees, but It Isn’t Their Call

In the wake of attacks on Paris, U.S. politicians threaten to deny entry to refugees.
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott are among more than 20 politicians calling for U.S. states to reject Syrian refugees. (Photo: Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
Nov 16, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Rebecca McCray is a staff writer covering social justice. She is based in New York.

A Syrian passport found near the body of one of the suicide bombers responsible for the ISIS-organized attacks on Paris has stoked conservative leaders’ fears that an influx of refugees could pave the way for terrorism in the U.S. Since Friday’s massacre, at least 21 state governors have called on the federal government to bar Syrian refugees from entering their states—or simply told President Obama that they won’t admit them.

“I write to inform you that the State of Texas will not accept any refugees from Syria in the wake of the deadly terrorist attack in Paris,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wrote in a letter to the president.

Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush suggested over the weekend that the U.S. should only admit Christian refugees, an idea that Obama roundly rejected during a speech in Turkey on Monday morning.

“We do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism,” Obama said. “We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”

In September, the Obama administration announced it would accept 100,000 refugees by 2017, increasing its previous cap of 70,000. Advocacy groups, refugee organizations, and Democratic leaders had urged the administration to resettle more refugees as smaller European countries such as Germany offered a cap of 800,000.

Over the past four years, the U.S. has admitted 2,000 Syrian refugees, though the administration pledged to take 10,000 by the end of 2016. At the end of 2014, there were 3.88 million Syrian refugees worldwide, according to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees.

On Monday, several officials at American refugee resettlement agencies said the state governors do not have legal authority to prevent the settlement of refugees in their states once their legal status in the U.S. has been approved.

“There is a close collaboration with governors and mayors and community leaders about the capacity of the area for refugees and where they can go, but once they have legal status, you cannot impede their transit between different states,” Lucy Carrigan, a spokeswoman for the International Rescue Committee, told The Washington Post.