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Feds to Abbott: No Power to Refuse Syrian Refugees

The federal government is officially reminding governors in states like Texas that they do not have the legal authority to reject Syrian refugees.

Woman participates in the rally to protest Gov. Abbott's decision not to accept at Syrian refugees on November 22, 2015

*Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect a statement from Dan Patrick.

The federal government is officially warning governors in states like Texas that they do not have the power to reject Syrian refugees. 

In a letter dated Wednesday, the Office of Refugee Resettlement told state officials they would be breaking the law if they denied benefits or services to refugees contingent upon their country of origin or religious affiliation. States that defy the law could face suspension or termination of their refugee resettlement programs, according to the letter, which was signed by Robert Carey, director of the office.

Gov. Greg Abbott is one of more than two dozen mostly Republican governors who have voiced opposition to resettling Syrian refugees in their states. Their concerns were amplified following terrorist attacks earlier this month in Paris that have put Americans on edge about a similar threat in the United States. 

Abbott has insisted he has the legal authority to refuse to accept Syrian refugees, citing a specific part of federal law. His office declined to comment on the letter, but the state agency that oversees refugee resettlement in Texas said it will not change course. 

"The Health and Human Services Commission will continue to follow the directive of Gov. Abbott, which calls for the State of Texas to not participate in the resettlement of Syrian refugees," HHSC spokesman Bryan Black said in a statement. 

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued a statement backing up Abbott for his "correct and courageous position" on the issue.

"Demands that Texas and other states must bow to the federal government and accept Syrian refugees is just another example of the arrogance and overreach of the Obama Administration," Patrick said. "The risk to the safety and security of all citizens is outrageous." 

The letter was first reported by the Houston Chronicle.

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