Court: Texas can't block Syrian refugee resettlement

Court: Texas can't block Syrian refugee resettlement
Illustration by Brian Stauffer

A federal court in Dallas on Thursday declined to grant Texas's wishes to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the state, saying that Texas failed to provide a legitimate reason to block the refugees and did not present "a substantial threat of immediate injury."

The legal saga began November 30, when the Texas Health and Human Services Commission sent a letter to a Dallas resettlement agency, International Rescue Committee. The commission's former executive director Chris Traylor threatened to sue the resettlement agency if it helped any Syrian refugees flee violence and terror in their home country immigrate to Texas.

Just weeks before, Governor Greg Abbott said he would refuse to allow any Syrians to resettle in Texas, claiming the FBI does not have enough information to evaluate whether Syrian nationals coming into the country are affiliated with ISIS. He wrote to President Barack Obama, "I — and millions of Americans — implore you to halt your plans to accept more Syrian refugees in the United States. A Syrian 'refugee' appears to have been part of the Paris terror attack. American humanitarian compassion could be exploited to expose Americans to similar deadly danger. The reasons for such concerns are plentiful."

But Texas failed to persuade the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

Texas sued IRC and also the federal government (which funds refugee resettlement) in December, arguing the IRC violated a federal law that says agencies must consult with the state before resettling additional refugees. U.S. District Judge David Godbey ruled that the state "lacked a cause of action" to enforce that requirement. 

Advocacy groups that had opposed Abbott's and Attorney General Ken Paxton's refusal to welcome Syrians fleeing war had said excluding entire groups of people based on the actions of one violent person was discriminatory and a political ploy. On Thursday, they cheered Godbey's decision.

“Governor Abbott and Attorney General Paxton didn’t have a legal leg to stand on here, and they knew it," Terri Burke, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said in a statement. "The goal of this wasteful lawsuit had nothing to do with public safety, and everything to do with scoring political points on the backs of desperate refugees."

Paxton had also failed twice to immediately block groups of Syrian refugees from entering Texas last December. Godbey, in rejecting Paxton's request, said then that Texas “has failed to show by competent evidence that any terrorists have actually infiltrated the refugee program, much less that these particular refugees are terrorists intent on causing harm. ...The Court finds that the evidence before it is largely speculative and hearsay.”

Yet again, Paxton said in a statement Thursday he was "disappointed" with Godbey, and that the state was "considering our options moving forward to guarantee the safety of Texans from domestic and foreign threats."

According to federal data from the Refugee Processing Center, since the state first threatened to sue in November, 229 Syrian refugees have settled in communities across Texas.  Nearly 4,000 have settled across the nation.


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