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Can governors block Syrian refugees? Probably not

Legal precedent might be on the administration's side, legal experts say.

In the wake of deadly terror attacks in Paris that killed at least 129 people, more than half of America's governors are now expressing some degree of opposition to the Obama administration's plans to relocate thousands of Syrian refugees to their states.

But despite the hue and cry of at least 31 governors who are either opposing, refusing, or suspending the resettlement of Syrian refugees into their state — either permanently or until after a security review — the Obama administration has said it views such decisions as a federal matter.

"This is a federal program carried out under authority of federal law … and refugees arriving in the U.S. are protected by constitution and federal law," a State Department official told reporters on Tuesday. The refugees "are required to apply for legal status within year" and are "free to move anywhere in the country."

And legal precedent might be on the administration's side, legal experts say.

WATCH: Why one governor won't try to block refugees

"I think the chance that the governors' position will be legally sustained will be extremely low," said Harold Koh, a former dean of the Yale Law School and a former legal adviser to the State Department under the Obama administration.

Further, of the 31 states now attempting to block Syrian refugees, all but five have previously accepted them.

Still, the potential flood of Syrian refugees to the U.S. worries lawmakers like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott who has vowed "We are working on measures to ensure ... that Texans will be kept safe from those refugees."

So far, none of the terrorists identified in the Paris attack have been Syrian refugees.

Since the federal law is so clear, why is there so much debate? Here are some basics on the showdown:

The Obama administration's take

Earlier this year the Obama administration announced that it will accept at least 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next fiscal year as countries in Europe continue to cope with the surge of thousands of people fleeing conflict in African and Middle Eastern nations. The U.S. estimates it has accepted at least 1,500 Syrian refugees since the start of the conflict four years ago.

President Obama, speaking at the conclusion of the G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey on Monday, made the case that "slamming the doors in their faces would be a betrayal of our values."

But as the chorus of American governors' pushing back against the president's policy has increased, Obama's appeal to moral and patriotic sentiment were underscored by senior administration officials who stressed on the Hill and to media that the White House is in the right when it comes to resettling Syrian refugees.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch told the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that the U.S. has a "robust" vetting process for those seeking entry to the U.S. including rigorous interviews and comparing information from a cross section of intelligence agencies.

"Certainly, there are challenges to that process because of the situation in Syria," Lynch said. "But I would note, however, that we do have the benefit of having that significant and robust screening process in place, a process that Europe has not been able to set up, which renders them more vulnerable."

Secretary of State John Kerry told NBC's Lester Holt on Tuesday that Americans shouldn't rush to judgment on Syrian refugees.

It is a message that was echoed during a White House call with the nation's governors on Tuesday evening.

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"The call lasted almost 90 minutes, including an extensive question and answer session among the governors and Administration officials," The White House said in a statement. "The officials briefed the governors on the rigorous screening and security vetting process that is required before a refugee is able to travel to the United States."

They added that "even as the United States accepts more refugees — including Syrians — we do so only after they undergo the most rigorous screening and security vetting of any category of traveler to the United States."

And during a briefing call with reporters earlier in the day, a State Department official stressed that when it comes to the refugee relocation program "states have an important consultative role, but it is administered by federal government." The official also noted "this is a program very much dependent on support of local communities," and spoke at some length at how constructive it is for local communities and officials to welcome refugees and work collaboratively.

The governors' take

More than half of the nation's governors and a cadre of other lawmakers have voiced some degree of opposition to the Obama administration's plan to relocate thousands of refugees to their state.

Texas Gov. Abbott summed up many of their fears when he wrote in a letter to the president, "A Syrian 'refugee' appears to have been part of the Paris terror attack," likely referring to the Syrian passport that was found near the body of one of the suicide bombers near the Stade de France, the national sports stadium.