Texas Gov. Abbott wrote a letter to President Obama saying that Texas would refuse Syrian refugees after the recent terrorist attack in Paris:
Given the tragic attacks in Paris and the threats we have already seen, Texas cannot participate in any program that will result in Syrian refugees — any one of whom could be connected to terrorism — being resettled in Texas.
Refugees must prove they have no ties to terrorist organizations
Although security of our country and Texas is paramount, the screening process that refugees must go through before entering the U.S. is rigorous. The U.S. handpicks the refugees who resettle here, and they go through multiple layers of security checks involving the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Defense and intelligence agencies, making them the most vetted group of people who come to the U.S. These checks typically require from 2-3 year before the refugee is cleared and can be brought to the U.S.
In order to enter the U.S. refugees must prove that they (and their family members) have no ties and have provided no support to terrorist groups or their members. The U.S. has been criticized for making it nearly impossible to enter the U.S. as a refugee from a country where terrorist organizations operate and for people who are often victims of terrorist activity themselves.
Refugees are a Federal matter
The Refugee Act of 1980, gives the president power to admit refugees who face “persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion” into the United States. Once a refugee is admitted to the U.S. they are free to live anywhere in the U.S. (even Texas). There is no law that allows governors to overrule the President on who can be admitted to the U.S. as a refugee.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission Office of Immigration and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) administers federal funds for refugees. The actual resettlement of refugees in the local communities is conducted by local voluntary resettlement agencies (VOLAGs) that work with the U.S. State Department. The Texas OIRA distributes funds to help refugees become employed, learn English and adjust to cultural differences.
Can Governor Abbott block Syrian refugees?
No. Governor Abbott cannot overrule President Obama regarding the admission of refugees. He may be able to restrict state funds that are available to refugees, but most of these are tied to federal monies and could endanger the entire program. Further, the refusal of only Syrian refugees raises equal protection concerns.
Can Governor Abbott make Texas look unwelcoming and xenophobic? He already has.