President Obama Compares Syrian Refugees to Mayflower Pilgrims, Administration Says States Can't Block Them

PHOTO: President Barack Obama speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington on Nov. 25, 2015.PlaySusan Walsh/AP Photo
WATCH President Obama Ties Mayflower Pilgrims to Syrian Refugees

President Obama used his weekly address to appeal to families counting their blessings on Thanksgiving, reminding Americans that the holiday isn’t only about turkey but a tribute to the deep immigration history that led to the nation’s founding.

“In 1620, a small band of pilgrims came to this continent, refugees who had fled persecution and violence in their native land,” Obama says. “Nearly 400 years later, we remember their part in the American story – and we honor the men and women who helped them in their time of need.”



The Obama administration said Wednesday that states can't legally block the resettlement of refugees, according to a letter from the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement sent to state officials.

In the letter, the agency said states are bound by the Refugee Act of 1980 to provide "assistance and services" to refugees "without regard to race, religion, nationality, sex or political opinion," and cannot cut off ORR-funded services to Syrian refugees.

Additionally, the letter says refugees are protected by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which "prohibits discrimination on the bases of race and national origin" in all programs that receive federal financial assistance.

More than 30 state governors have indicated they will attempt to block any future refugees from settling in their states.

Obama said he’s been “touched by the generosity of the Americans” who have written letters and emails in recent weeks offering to open their homes to refugees fleeing the Islamic State, ISIL.

“Nearly four centuries after the Mayflower set sail, the world is still full of pilgrims – men and women who want nothing more than the chance for a safer, better future for themselves and their families,” the president says. “What makes America America is that we offer that chance. We turn Lady Liberty’s light to the world, and widen our circle of concern to say that all God’s children are worthy of our compassion and care. That’s part of what makes this the greatest country on Earth.”

The House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill on Nov. 19 that would require the FBI director to certify a background investigation for each potential refugee from Syria or Iraq, and administration officials including the DHS secretary must attest that each potential refugee is not a security threat to the U.S. The White House and Senate Democrats oppose the measure, which passed through the lower chamber with a veto-proof majority.

House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, charged that the majority of U.S. governors have taken positions that reflect the views of their constituents.

"It’s hypocritical for Obama Administration officials to threaten enforcement action against these states when they refuse to enforce the vast majority of our immigration laws, such as cracking down on sanctuary cities that openly defy federal law and endanger the American people," he wrote. “The Administration’s latest threat shows why we need the American SAFE Act so that the American people have confidence in their government’s ability to fully screen refugees seeking to come here.”

After serving turkey to homeless veterans and pardoning a turkey on Wednesday, President Obama privately enjoys Thanksgiving at the White House.