No Legal Basis for US Governors to Bar Syrian Refugees

Refugee Act Doesn't Give States Any Power to Exclude Refugees

Faced with a false rumor of a refugee involved in Friday’s Paris attacks, governors across the US are vowing to block the admittance of new Syrian refugees into their states, saying they pose to great a security risk to be allowed in.

That’s what they’re saying, at least, but legal experts are pointing out that there’s absolutely no legal basis for governors, or indeed individual states in general, to do anything to exclude refugees already admitted into the United States from settling in their states.

The Refugee Act of 1980, which governs the admittance of civilian refugees escaping the Syrian war, makes it clear this decision is purely a federal matter, though experts say that the states could make implementation of the refugee resettlement difficult.

To that end, however, the most likely impact of this effort to move against the refugees is to fuel ethnic and religious hatred in those states, and a concerted effort by governors to make these refugees feel as unwelcome as possible.

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Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of