The Obama administration on Wednesday reminded state officials across the country that states do not have legal authority to refuse to accept Syrian refugees, reports The Associated Press (AP).
The reminder from the White House came amid a growing controversy over the plan to accept Syrian refugees, in the wake of the discovery of a Syrian passport near the body of one assailant in the Paris attacks.
Later, the House of Representatives approved a resolution which aims to block administration plans to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the coming year. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the legislation.
On Wednesday, the Office of Refugee Resettlement said in a letter to state resettlement officials that states may not deny benefits and services to refugees based on a refugee's country of origin or religious affiliation.
States that do not comply with the requirement would be breaking the law and could be subject to enforcement action, including suspension or termination of the federally funded program, according to the letter, signed by the director of the federal resettlement office, Robert Carey, and quoted by AP.
The governors who said they would refuse Syrian refugees said they fear that jihadiasts planning a terror attack could enter the country under the guise of seeking refuge from war-torn Syria.
The letter from the federal resettlement office said would-be refugees "are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States."
The screening process is "multi-layered and intensive" and involves multiple law enforcement, national security and intelligence agencies across the federal government, the letter said, according to AP.
A spokesman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which oversees refugee resettlement in the state, said the letter will not change the state's position of blocking Syrian refugees.
Obama last week struck out at Republicans, accusing them of demonizing "widows and orphans" and of “hysteria” following the Paris attacks.
"We are not well served when in response to a terrorist attack we descend into fear and panic," he said, adding, "We don't make good decisions if it's based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks."