- Associated Press - Monday, November 23, 2015

BOSTON (AP) - Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday that Massachusetts will continue to support refugee resettlement, even as the debate over the U.S. role in sheltering some refugees fleeing Syria continues to roil political debate in the country.

Offering shelter to refugees is part of Massachusetts’ history, Baker told reporters Monday.

“I don’t intend to have Massachusetts get out of the business of supporting refugee resettlement,” Baker said. “It’s something we’ve been doing forever and we’re going to continue to collaborate and cooperate with the federal government on that.”

The comments come after Baker was criticized last week when he said he was not interested in having the state accept additional Syrian refugees following the attacks by extremists in Paris until he learned more about the vetting process.

Baker said the safety of Massachusetts residents is his first priority.

Baker said he continues to have questions about how the U.S. vets refugees. He said he hopes to have conversations this week to learn more about that process.

“I do have some questions on how you vet people, especially those coming from countries that basically haven’t had governments that have been functioning for a very long period of time,” Baker said Monday.

A Baker aide also confirmed he had received a letter sent by Secretary of State John Kerry late last week to governors discussing the vetting process.

In the letters, Kerry and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson try to reassure nervous governors that “in short, the security vetting for this population - the most vulnerable of individuals - is extraordinarily thorough and comprehensive.”

The latest comments from Baker come after aides said the Massachusetts Republican 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.

Aides to Baker have said his position remains consistent with comments made earlier last week.

Those comments drew fire from activists and several members of the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation, including U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, a former U.S. Marine who served in Iraq.

Moulton tweeted last week that it was a disappointment to him that Baker “doesn’t know the difference between refugees and those from whom they need refuge.”

Despite the protests of some governors, individual states do not have the legal authority to block refugee placement.

The Refugee Act of 1980 dictates that refugee resettlement within the United States is managed by the federal government. State refugee coordinators are consulted by the federal government, but that consultation is largely to ensure refugees are settled in cities with adequate jobs, housing and social services.

Federal courts - including the Supreme Court - also have upheld that immigration and admission of non-citizens to the United States is a federal responsibility and one managed wholly by the federal government.

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