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Syrian refugees opposed; issue goes to Congress

An anti-Syrian refugee protester stands on the streets of New York City.
Albin Lohr-Jones | Pacific Press | LightRocket | Getty Images
An anti-Syrian refugee protester stands on the streets of New York City.

Governors and lawmakers across the nation have reacted sharply to the potential influx of refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East by saying they oppose or outright refuse to take them in.

The sudden spark of xenophobia was prompted by the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday and subsequent speculation that the so-called Islamic State could hide agents among the flow of refugees.

There's little the governors can actually do to prevent resettlement as the program is federally administered. The State Department on Monday said it would not change its plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next year.

But what of the Syrian refugees who are already here? Since the Syrian Civil War began in the Arab Spring in early 2011, more than 2,000 refugees from the battered country have made it to the U.S. They've been resettled through the Refugee Processing Center, a division of the State Department.

Two-thirds of those settled are in states that now oppose taking them in, according to a Big Crunch analysis of State Department data. Texas leads the group with 242 individuals. The only state that's taken in more refugees is California, which has not yet made a statement regarding the new controversy.

Three states — Hawaii, Rhode Island and Vermont — have voiced their willingness to take in refugees but are not hosting any Syrian refugees. Settlements are usually based on family connections, medical needs and other factors, a decision that is made at the federal level with local consultation.

Once a refugee is resettled by the State Department, he or she is free to move anywhere in the country — although they may only be able to receive state benefits in their original state of resettlement, according to the State Department.

"We will continue to consult with state and local governments closely in the implementation of the program and to allay any concerns they may have about the program," a department spokesperson said in an email.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act of 2015. The Act was introduced late Tuesday by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas.

It would require the FBI and Homeland Security, as well as the director of National Intelligence to perform background checks and unanimously approve "each covered alien" before admission to the U.S. A "covered alien" is defined as "a national or resident of Iraq or Syria."

Lawmakers are likely to vote on the bill before departing Washington for their Thanksgiving break.