Texas has gone to federal court in its efforts to keep Syrian refugees out of the state, filing suit against the federal government and a refugee resettlement nonprofit.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday afternoon in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxtonclaims the federal government and the International Rescue Committee — one of about 20 private nonprofits that have a state contract to resettle refugees in Texas — are violating federal law by moving forward with the planned resettlement of two Syrian families. One such family is expected to arrive in Texas as soon as Friday.
The lawsuit argues that the federal government and resettlement group have not fulfilled their contractual obligations to consult with, and provide information to, state officials.
It argues that federal officials violated the Refugee Act of 1980, which requires that the federal government “shall consult regularly” with the state regarding the placement of refugees. Texas also alleges that the International Rescue Committee violated a separate provision of the act requiring the nonprofit work “in close cooperation and advance consultation” with the state.
The suit, filed in the Dallas-based federal court, asks for a temporary injunction barring any Syrian refugees until terms of the contract are met. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge David C. Godbey, a George W. Bush appointee.
“The point of this lawsuit is not about specific refugees, it is about protecting Texans by ensuring that the federal government fulfills its obligation to properly vet the refugees and cooperate and consult with the state," Paxton said in a statement.
Representatives with the International Rescue Committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Refugee resettlement in the United States is completely funded by the federal government, but the state is in charge of contracting with local nonprofit organizations and distributing federal dollars to those agencies. Texas also oversees health assistance to refugees through two federally funded programs.
Three days after the Paris terrorist attacks that left 130 dead, Gov. Greg Abbott joined more than two dozen mostly Republican governors in vowing to bar Syrian refugees from their states.
But the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement last week warned Abbott and other governors that they do not have the power to reject Syrian refugees, telling them they would be breaking the law if they denied benefits or services to refugees based on their country of origin or religion. And the International Rescue Committee's Dallas branch informed the state it would continue aiding Syrian refugees placed in Texas despite Abbott’s orders.
Abbott and Paxton have cited concerns about security and the adequacy of refugee screening for their opposition. Resettlement leaders have reiterated that the security screening of refugees, administered by the U.S. Department of State, is a rigorous process that can take up to two years and includes background and biometric checks against intelligence databases.
At least 242 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Texas since 2012. That number is relatively small for Texas — a hotbed for refugee resettlement — but the count of Syrian refugees was expected to increase significantly in the next year as the United States prepares to take in as many as 10,000 Syrian refugees.
Abbott had directed resettlement nonprofits in Texas to halt the resettlement of any Syrian refugees last month. After the International Rescue Committee informed the state it was planning to resettle two families in Dallas in early December, the state warned the nonprofit that it was at risk of being sued or losing its state contract if it moved forward.
This story has been updated.