The Obama administration is warning states that they cannot refuse to accept refugees fleeing war-torn Syria, saying that noncompliant states may be subject to penalties.
The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) said in a letter to state agencies on Wednesday that they cannot withhold services to refugees based on their country of origin or religion.
“Accordingly, states may not categorically deny ORR-funded benefits and services to Syrian refugees,” the letter said. “Any state with such a policy would not be in compliance with the State Plan requirements, applicable statutes, and their own assurances, and could be subject to enforcement action, including suspension and termination.”
The letter cited the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination on the basis of race or country or origin.
“Thus, it is not permissible to deny federally funded benefits such as Medicaid or TANF to refugees who otherwise meet the eligibility requirements."
The House overwhelmingly passed a measure earlier this month to make it more difficult for Syrian refugees to enter the country, following the Nov. 13 terrorist attack in Paris in which at least one assailant is suspected of entering the country posed as a migrant.
The ORR letter said refugees are subject to a rigorous screening process before they enter the country.
“It is the most robust screening process for any category of individuals seeking admissions into the United States, and it is only after admission that ORR and our partners in resettlement begin our work,” the letter said.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteMoving Copyright Office authorities to executive branch could improve accountability Register of copyrights should be presidential appointee Week ahead: Senate takes aim at Obama-era 'blacklisting' rule MORE (R-Va.) slammed the Obama administration as “hypocritical” over the letter.
“While the United States has the most generous refugee system in the world, the American people are rightly concerned about admitting Syrian refugees and the impact it would have on the safety of their families and neighbors,” Goodlatte said in a statement.
“It’s hypocritical for Obama Administration officials to threaten enforcement action against these states when they refuse to enforce the vast majority of our immigration laws, such as cracking down on sanctuary cities that openly defy federal law and endanger the American people,” he continued.
Obama has vowed to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. over the next fiscal year.