The federal government told refugee resettlement agencies across the United States on Wednesday that states cannot refuse to accept Syrian refugees, the Houston Chronicle reported. A letter from the Office of Refugee Resettlement obtained by the Chronicle is the first indicator that the federal government may place Syrian refugees in states despite opposition from governors.
“States may not deny [Office of Refugee Resettlement]-funded benefits and services to refugees based on a refugee’s country of origin or religious affiliation,” Robert Carey, director of the office, wrote in the statement. “Accordingly, states may not categorically deny ORR-funded benefits and services to Syrian refugees.”
Carey also said in the statement that states refusing to comply would be violating the law, and could be subject to “enforcement action, including suspension or termination.”
In the wake of the terror attacks in Paris earlier this month that killed 130 and wounded hundreds more, more than two dozen U.S. governors have openly opposed resettlement of Syrian refugees to their states out of fear that militants from the Islamic State group -- which claimed responsibility for the attacks -- would enter the U.S. among the waves of refugees fleeing civil war in Syria.
States don’t have control over the majority of the country’s refugee program, but they have some power over administering federal funds and providing certain services necessary for refugees to start their new lives in the U.S. A spokesman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, responsible for overseeing refugee resettlement in the state, told the Houston Chronicle it will not change its stance on refugees in the wake of Carey’s letter.
“The Health and Human Services Commission will continue to follow the directive of Gov. [Greg] Abbott, which calls for the state of Texas to not participate in the resettlement of Syrian refugees,” Bryan Black said.
The federal government has pledged to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees to the country this fiscal year. Since the Syrian civil war started in 2011, the U.S. has resettled just 1,854 Syrian refugees, dispersing them across the country, mostly to areas with already large Syrian communities.