States Can't Refuse Refugees

In September 2015, President Obama announced that 10,000 Syrian refugees would be allowed to enter the United States next year.  Shortly after the horrible terrorist attacks in Paris, France, Tennessee's governor joined hands with 30 other governors and announced that he would not allow the refugees to resettle in this state.  Since that time, many have speculated as to whether the states have the power to reject refugees.  Yesterday, Tennessee's Attorney General issued an opinion stating that Tennessee does not have the authority to reject refugees because of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. 


In a nutshell, the Supremacy Clause states that federal law is the law of the land.  With respect to certain issues, like substantive immigration matters, Congress has the exclusive power to make decisions.  In addition, whenever state law conflicts with federal law, federal law rules.  As such, it is the Attorney General's opinion that the creation of any law by any state which prohibits the resettlement of refugees violates the Supremacy Clause.


This does not mean that the states are entirely without a voice.  Once the President decides how many refugees will enter our country, a partnering agency is tasked with determining which states will host refugees.  As a part of that process, the agency is required to consult with the states and take into account any recommendations the states may have.  The states can request that no refugees be sent to their respective states if the states believe, for example, that the relocation will adversely impact the existing residents.  Although the states' requests will be heard, the federal government will have the ultimate say on where the refugees are sent.


Click here to read the entire Attorney General's Opinion.