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Mayors strike back against governors in refugee fight

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  • 31 governors have said they will not welcome Syrian refugees
  • De Blasio: We're not going to turn our backs on children and families

Washington (CNN)Democratic mayors across the country are clashing with mostly Republican governors who say their states shouldn't accept Syrian refugees.

More than half -- 31 -- of the nation's governors, most of the Republicans, say they oppose letting Syrian refugees into their states. The final say on allowing refugees into the country falls with the federal government, though governors can slow down the process and make placing and aiding refugees more difficult.
    "It sends a horrible message to the world. It means we're turning our backs on the people who are the victims of terrorism," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday. "We're not going to turn our backs on children and families. It's not the American way. It's certainly not the New York City way."
    While New York has said it would accept refugees, nearby New Jersey -- under the leadership of 2016 Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie -- has said it won't.
    "I cannot allow New Jersey to participate in any program that will result in Syrian refugees -- any one of whom could be connected to terrorism -- being placed in our State," Christie wrote in a letter to Obama.
    And similar conflicts are rippling across the country.
    Republican Gov. Rick Scott said Florida is not willing to accept Syrian refugees, but Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, Florida's capital, told CNN Wednesday his city will continue to be a safe place for refugees.
    "I believe strongly that we cannot turn our backs on the refugee community in their time of greatest need," he said. "The U.S. vetting process for refugees is extremely rigorous, extensive, and comprehensive, and allows us to aid those that pose no threat to our country. Gov. Scott's stance is driven by divisive politics."
    The Chicago City Council voted Wednesday to reaffirm the city as a safe place for refugees after Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner called to withhold aid for refugees.
    "The state of Illinois will temporarily suspend accepting new Syrian refugees and consider all of our legal options pending a full review of our country's acceptance and security processes by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security," Rauner said Monday.
    Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said it would be wrong for the U.S. to shut the door to people fleeing terrorism as Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has suggested.
    "Phoenix is recognized as one of the most welcoming communities for refugees from around the world, and as mayor, I'm committed to strengthening that reputation," Stanton said in a statement to CNN.
    Many high-profile Democratic mayors, including Boston's Marty Walsh, Houston's Annise Parker and Baltimore's Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, now find themselves in states governed by politicians who want to keep refugees from crossing their borders.
    The three mayors are among those who previously signed a letter opening their doors to Syrian refugees.
    "As the mayors of cities across the country, we see first-hand the myriad ways in which immigrants and refugees make our communities stronger economically, socially and culturally. We will welcome the Syrian families to make homes and new lives in our cities," the mayors said in a September statement released by Cities United for Immigration Action, a coalition of city governments who stand in support of stronger cities through immigration action.
    Because the United States Conference of Mayors has not changed its refugee policy since the Paris attacks, the group's communications director Elena Temple-Webb told CNN Wednesday she believes the mayors will continue to welcome refugees.
    "My sense is it has not changed. I don't believe it has changed, so it stands," she said. "I have heard zero to the contrary. And I have to believe that I would have been instructed to respond to the governors if the mayors' position had changed."
    Other mayors and governors have found themselves butting heads over the issue.
    New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez said Monday that her state would not welcome Syrian refugees until a clear plan is in place to vet them.
    "The governor strongly opposes the Obama administration's plan to accept more Syrian refugees until there is a very clear plan in place to properly vet and place the refugees, and the voices of governors and the public can be heard," Michael Lonergan, Martinez's spokesman, said in a statement according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.
    But Javier Gonzales, mayor of Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, called on Martinez to welcome Syrian refugees to the state.
    "The people fleeing Syria now are in some of the darkest days of their lives, running from the very terrorism we seek to fight," Gonzales wrote in a Facebook post Monday. "Basic American values call on us not to bar the way or abandon them to their fate."
    And Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings pushed back on Texas Governor Greg Abbott's decision to block Syrian refugees from coming to the state.
    Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal issued an executive order Monday -- the day before he ended his presidential bid -- to prevent Syrian refugees from settling in Louisiana.
    But New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu did not submit to requests that he pressure President Barack Obama to keep refugees out of Louisiana.
    "Matters of national security are no place for politics," Landrieu said according to the Times Picayune. "In New Orleans, we are working every day to make sure that our streets are safe. To that end, we routinely run coordinated homeland security exercises across city, state and federal agencies so that we are prepared should something occur."