President Barack Obama used his weekly address on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26, to make an appeal for Syrian refugees who want to come to the U.S. He also compared them to the pilgrims who came to America hundreds of years ago (video below).
“In 1620, a small band of pilgrims came to this continent, refugees who had fled persecution and violence in their native land,” Obama said, according to ABC News.
“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," Obama added.
Obama also mentioned letters and emails that he had received from Americans who offered to open their homes to refugees fleeing terrorism overseas.
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“One woman from Pennsylvania wrote to me to say, ‘Money is tight for us in my household, but I have a guest room,'" Obama said. "'I have a pantry full of food. We can do this.'
“Another woman from Florida told me her family’s history dates back to the Mayflower, and she said that welcoming others is part of ‘what it means to be an American.'”
Obama then compared the pilgrims who came to the U.S. to today's refugees.
“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," he said.
The House voted on Nov. 19 for a bill that would force the FBI director to certify background checks for all potential refugees fleeing Syria or Iraq. The bill would also force Obama administration officials and the Department of Homeland Security to state that each refugee would not be a threat to the U.S., although there's no government in any country that could ever make such a promise.
Additionally, 31 governors, mostly Republican, have publicly stated their opposition to refugees coming to their states, reported CNN on Nov. 19.
Some governors have said they will block the refugees, but American University law professor Stephen I. Vladeck told the cable channel, "Legally, states have no authority to do anything because the question of who should be allowed in this country is one that the Constitution commits to the federal government."
"So a state can't say it is legally objecting, but it can refuse to cooperate, which makes things much more difficult," Vladeck added.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement echoed that sentiment in a letter to the states on Nov. 25.
The agency cited the Refugee Act of 1980 as its authority to provide "assistance and services" to refugees "without regard to race, religion, nationality, sex or political opinion," reports ABC News.
HHS also cited Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which "prohibits discrimination on the bases of race and national origin" regarding state programs that accept federal money.