The Slatest

Obama Admin. Sends Reminder to States: You Don’t Have the Authority to Reject Syrian Refugees

A young refugee looks out of a bus window at a refugee reception center on the island of Lesbos on Oct. 19, 2015.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks earlier this month, dozens of state governments in the U.S., the vast majority of which are led by Republican governors, declared their states closed to Syrian refugees. As Slate’s Josh Keating pointed out at the time: “It’s hard to imagine a more heartbreakingly ironic fate than fleeing violence in your home country only to be vilified for violence perpetrated by some of the same people you were fleeing.” On Wednesday, the Obama administration sent a helpful reminder to state officials across the country that they don’t actually have the authority to refuse refugees and doing so would be illegal.

The notice came in the form of a letter from the Office of Refugee Resettlement that serves as a reminder that states may not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, and, most importantly, religion or country of origin. “States that do not comply with the requirement would be breaking the law and could be subject to enforcement action, including suspension or termination of the federally funded program, according to the letter, signed by the director of the federal resettlement office, Robert Carey,” the Associated Press reports.

Three are some 4 million Syrian refugees that have fled and are living outside of the country; most of the refugees live in either Turkey or Jordan, far and away the two largest state recipients. The numbers that have made it to the U.S. are microscopic in comparison: Some 2,200 Syrian refugees have been allowed in the U.S. over the last four years and the Obama administration committed to allowing another 10,000 to resettle in the country before the Paris attacks spooked public opinion and galvanized G.O.P. presidential candidates. “A spokeswoman in the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the resettlement office, said 49 states and the District of Columbia have refugee resettlement programs,” according to the AP. “Wyoming does not have a refugee resettlement program.”