The federal government shot a warning to state resettlement officials, telling them they do not have the authority to deny the entry of Syrian refugees.
In a letter sent Wednesday, Office of Refugee Resettlement Director Robert Carey said he is aware of the concern expressed by some local leaders in allowing Syrian refugees into their states. Carey advised that "all refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States," in what he called a "multi-layered and intensive screening and vetting process involving multiple law enforcement, national security, and intelligence across the Federal government."
"Syrian refugees are subject to even more precautions than other refugees," he added.
More than half of the nation's governors have pledged not to allow Syrian refugees into their states following the wave of terror attacks that hit Paris earlier in the month, which left 130 dead and hundreds more injured. It is suspected that at least one of the attackers gained entry into France through the European refugee resettlement program. The governors cited security concerns on the possibility of terrorists slipping into the U.S. using the refugee program.
States are required to provide "assistance and services ... to refugees without regard to race, religion, nationality, sex or political position" according to the Refugee Act of 1980, the letter points out.
"States may not deny ORR-funded benefits and services to refugees based on a refugee's country of origin or religious affiliation," the letter states. "Accordingly, states may not deny ORR-funded benefits and services to Syrian refugees." States that do not comply with these terms are subject to "enforcement action, including suspension or termination."
According to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, discrimination based on race or origin is against the law in all programs that receive federally-funded assistance, the letter adds.
The letter, first reported on by the Houston Chronicle, marks the first official statement by the federal government in response to state governors' public declarations that they do not welcome the entry of Syrian refugees into their states.
Last week the White House held an emergency call with 34 governors who had expressed opposition to having refugees placed into their states. The call, led by White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, sought to ease their concerns and share details on the federal refugee resettlement process and security screening measures.
Still, some governors did not budge on the administration's plan to relocate 10,00 refugees from warn-torn Syria in the present fiscal year. Over 2,200 Syrian refugees have already been resettled into the U.S. since October of 2010, says the State Department.
In a Fox News interview last week after the White House call, Texas Gov. Greg Abbot said "What the national intelligence leaders are telling us is that Syrian refugees could be embedded with those who are ISIS terrorists."
"It's our responsibility, for me as governor of the state of Texas and for all leaders in this nation, to ensure that we put national security and the security of our fellow Americans first," he added.
On Monday American Civil Liberties Union sued Indiana Gov. Mike Pence for attempting to suspend Syrian refugee relocation into his state.
"Decisions concerning immigration and refugee resettlement are exclusively the province of the federal government, and attempts to pre-empt that authority violate both equal protection and civil rights laws and intrude on authority that is exclusively federal," said ACLU of Indiana legal director Ken Falk in a press release.
Read the full text of the ORR letter below: