The state of Texas sent a letter to a refugee aid group in Dallas late last week, threatening to sue the organization and cut off its contract with the state if it does not stop working to resettle Syrians fleeing violence and persecution in the Middle East, the Houston Chronicle reported earlier this morning.
The letter, signed by head of the state's Health and Human Services Commission Chris Traylor, claims the International Rescue Committee branch in Dallas is in violation of federal law for failing to "cooperate" with Texas because it "insists on resettling certain refugees from Syria in the near future," even after Governor Greg Abbott vowed to block Syrian refugees from entering Texas.
"The Governor has advised me that his foremost obligation is to keep citizens safe," Traylor wrote. "The Governor believes that accepting refugees from Syria is incompatible with an absolute commitment to the safety of Texans because the President has shown the Governor no willingness to improve the security screenings of refugees from Syria, despite the abundant evidence that the screenings are ineffective. Failure by your organization to cooperate with the State of Texas as required by federal law may result in the termination of your contract with the state and other legal action."
The Governor does not actually have the authority to close Texas' borders to Syrian refugees, but the state could possibly cut funding to local refugee aid groups resettling Syrian refugees or entangle aid organizations in costly lawsuits for failing to follow Abbott's directive. Traylor's letter was dated the same day the federal government sent a letter saying states refusing Syrian refugees could face "enforcement action," meaning the federal government might slash funding for refugee resettlement programs in states that deny Syrian refugees.
According to CNN, 31 states have said they will not accept Syrian refugees out of fear following the terrorist attacks in Paris, even though all of the identified attackers were European nationals (one was found with a fake Syrian passport).
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Traylor's letter says the federal government's screening process is ineffective, but President Barack Obama's administration has said the screening is actually very rigorous (here's an infographic on the White House website explaining the refugee screening process step-by-step — it appears to be pretty long and complex). It is also unclear where the "abundant evidence" Traylor mentions in the letter pointing to the screening process' ineffectiveness is, since there has not been a terrorist attack on American soil carried out by a foreign terrorist organization since September 11, 2001, as Vox points out.
Meanwhile, Senator Ted Cruz has said he is working on legislation that would ban only Muslims among the Syrian refugee stream, so maybe all this talk about "safety" is really just a convenient veil for religious intolerance. Maybe.
Here's the letter: