A slew of states are saying they'll refuse Syrian refugees, but they might have 'no legal authority'

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What Can Governors Do to Block Syrian Refugees? Not Much


In what seemed like a domino effect, governors in more than 15 states have suggested over the past 48 hours that they will no longer admit Syrian refugees.

Their reactions have come in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris, which left at least 129 dead, and revelations that one of the suspects in the attacks was found with a Syrian passport — though its authenticity has yet to be confirmed.

But a number of immigration-law experts say that even if a state refuses to cooperate with the federal government, governors won't technically be able to bar the resettlement of refugees in their states.

"States have absolutely no legal authority to bar someone who is granted refugee status from entering their state, since it's federal law that determines whether someone is a refugee," Greg Chen, director of advocacy at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told Business Insider on Monday.

See stunning portraits of the long journey's toll on these refugees:

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A slew of states are saying they'll refuse Syrian refugees, but they might have 'no legal authority'
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Officials at other resettlement agencies agreed.

"Governors and state officials do not have the capability to prevent a refugee who is here and admitted lawfully to the U.S. from residing in their state. It is not something they can do," Lucy Carrigan, a spokeswoman for the International Rescue Committee, told The Washington Post.

Since the governors of Alabama and Michigan called for US President Barack Obama to halt the admission of refugees to the US over the weekend, many states have followed in their footsteps — to varying degrees.

Some states, like Louisiana and New Hampshire, have requested that the Obama administration stop admitting refugees into the US, but have not said that they will take explicit steps to block refugees from settling in their states. Others, like Illinois, have said outright that they are examining legal ways to halt the resettlement of refugees within their borders.

Chen told Business Insider that it's unclear how states could block resettlement, as the federal government has overwhelming authority over immigration enforcement and refugee resettlement.

The state mostly plays a facilitating role in helping refugees settle, often directing federal money toward local nonprofits and religious-aid groups that then use that money to provide limited assistance for resettlement. Chen said that if states refuse to direct money to organizations to carry out resettlement, they could find themselves in contract violations.

Further, some experts contend that the refugee-application system is incredibly slow and rigorous, and argue that it would be an unwieldy system to exploit.

Background checks — which involve biometric screenings, in-person interviews, and in some cases screenings by multiple US intelligence agencies — and health screenings for refugees seeking asylum from conflicts in the Middle East often keep potential refugees waiting for years before they reach the US.

"Refugee status is the single most difficult way to come to the US. It makes no sense for a terrorist to try to use the resettlement process for an attack," Dave Bier, president of the libertarian advocacy group Niskanen Center, wrote in a blog post on Monday.

"It takes a great deal of time, and it wouldn't make sense for someone who is a terrorist for someone to go through that process. There are going to be easier ways for a terrorist to try to infiltrate, rather than going through the refugee resettlement program."

SEE ALSO: A cascade of states are now refusing to accept Syrian refugees

RELATED: See more harrowing scenes from the migrant crisis

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General migrant crisis - Syrian refugees, entering all European countries
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A slew of states are saying they'll refuse Syrian refugees, but they might have 'no legal authority'
Migrant and refugee children lie on the ground during a demonstration to protest against Turkish police blocking the access to the road and the ticket office for the Turkey-Greece border towns on September 15, 2015 at Istanbul's Esenler Bus Terminal. Over half a million migrants have crossed the European Union's border so far this year, up from 280,000 in 2014, the bloc's Frontex border agency said on September 15, 2015 -- but warned some people may have been counted twice. AFP PHOTO / YASIN AKGUL (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)
ROSZKE, HUNGARY - SEPTEMBER 13: A young boy wraps up to keep warm as migrants wake up to a cold morning at the Hungarian border with Serbia on September 13, 2015 in Roszke, Hungary. A record number of 4,000 people crossed the Hungarian border with Serbia yesterday. Migrants are rushing to the border due to fears that the borders will soon close before the official closure of midnight on Monday, September 14th. Since the beginning of 2015 the number of migrants using the so-called 'Balkans route' has exploded with migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey and then travelling on through Macedonia and Serbia before entering the EU via Hungary. The number of people leaving their homes in war torn countries such as Syria, marks the largest migration of people since World War II. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
SANLIURFA, TURKEY - OCTOBER 28: (TURKEY OUT) Kurdish refugee children from the Syrian town of Kobani look on near makeshift tents in a camp in the southeastern town of Suruc, Sanliurfa province October 28, 2014. Kurdish fighters, supported by US-led air strikes, have fended off the Islamic State militants offensive into the besieged Syrian border town of Kobani for the last 44 days but remain ill equipped and short on ammunition. (Photo by Kutluhan Cucel/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - JULY 02: Mother of Syrian child refugee 8-year-old Ahmet Kedru, with partial thickness burns on the face, Aisha Kedru weeps as her son demands support for an aesthetic surgery from Turkish doctors to return to the old days on July 02, 2015 in Aleppo's district Azaz. When Ahmet and his family members were inside of a tent that they take shelter in at Azaz district, the tent is burned out. Fire damaged both him and his mother. (Photo by Kerem Kocalar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Syrian refugees wait for transportation after crossing into Turkey from the Syrian town of Tal Abyad, near Akcakale in Sanliurfa province, on June 10, 2015. Thousands of people crossed from Syria into Turkey on June 10 to flee a battle pitting Islamist insurgents against Kurdish and opposition forces for the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
SANLIURFA, TURKEY - JUNE 06: A Turkish soldier carries a Syrian girl as she crosses into Turkey with her family from the borderline in Akcakale district of Sanliurfa on June 06, 2015. Hundreds of Syrians who fled from Syria after clashes between Syrian government forces and opponents in Rasulayn region of Al-Hasakah, have crossed into Turkey since Wednesday. (Photo by Halil Fidan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A Syrian refugee woman sits as a child sleeps near her early in the morning on Taksim Square, Istanbul, on May 26, 2015. Britain's David Cameron and Russia's Vladimir Putin have agreed to re-start talks on finding a solution to the crisis in Syria, a statement from Cameron said on May 25. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian Kurdish boy peers as children take lessons on November 10, 2014 in a makeshift school tent in a refugee camp in the town of Suruc, Sanliurfa province. Turkey's maintained an 'open door' policy for all those fleeing Syria's civil war and there are now over 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in the country. More than 280,000 Syrian refugees are living in refugee camps, mostly in the southeast, according Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD). AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINI (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Kurdish people watch the Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, from the Turkish border in the southeastern village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on October 18, 2014. Turkey is turning a deaf ear to insistent pressure to take a more pro-active stance in the fight against Islamic State (IS) jihadists, adding to existing strains with the West under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Western diplomats have repeatedly made clear they want to see the key NATO member play a key role in the coalition against the militants, who are battling for the Syrian town Kobane just a few kilometers from Turkey. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
A child cries as Syrian Kurdish people arrive after crossing the border between Syria and Turkey after several mortars hit both side in the southeastern town of Suruc, in the Sanliurfa province on September 29, 2014. Tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds flooded into Turkey fleeing an onslaught by the Islamic State (IS) group that prompted an appeal for international intervention. Some of the refugee now want to return to protect their homes and join the fight against IS militants. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
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