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Gov. Charlie Baker declined to sign a letter sent Friday by other Republican governors asking President Barack Obama to suspend all efforts to resettle Syrian refugees in the U.S., and he believes Massachusetts "has a role in welcoming refugees," a spokeswoman said Friday.
Aides to the governor say his position remains consistent with comments made earlier in the week that drew criticism from some immigration groups and Democratic U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton.
On Monday, Baker told reporters he was not currently interested in having the state accept additional Syrian refugees in the aftermath of last week's attacks in Paris, saying the safety of Massachusetts residents was his first priority. He added that he wanted to be cautious until he learned more about the federal government's vetting process for refugees.
"I would certainly say no until I know a lot more than I know now," Baker said at the time.
Moulton, a former U.S. Marine who served in Iraq, tweeted that it was a disappointment to him that Baker "doesn't know the difference between refugees and those from whom they need refuge." That drew a sharp response from Baker, who suggested that Moulton had not considered the entirety of his remarks and was resorting to "partisan talking points."
The letter to Obama, signed by 27 GOP governors, called for the administration to immediately review the process by which background checks are conducted on individuals applying for refugee status.
"In the wake of this recent tragedy, and until we can ensure the citizens of our states that an exhaustive review of all security measures has been completed and the necessary changes have been implemented, we respectfully request that you suspend all plans to resettle additional Syrian refugees," the governors wrote.
The governors are among those expressing concern that Islamic extremists might use the refugees as cover to sneak across borders. The administration has said the screening process involves multiple federal agencies and can take up to two years, making it an unlikely pathway for terrorists.
"Gov. Baker believes that Massachusetts has a role in welcoming refugees into the Commonwealth and in the wake of recent, terrible tragedies overseas is working to ensure the public's safety and security despite the limited role state governments play in the process," spokeswoman Elizabeth Guyton said Friday in a statement.
The governor is vacationing with his family, and aides said he did not attend the Republican Governors Association meetings in Las Vegas.
The administration also pointed to a transcript of remarks Baker made on Tuesday, when he said the state's active participation in previous refugee resettlement programs was "part of who we are and what we're about."
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