Texas sues State Department to block Syrian refugee resettlement

© Yannis Behrakis
A Texas agency has sued the US State Department and Secretary of State John Kerry, among others, seeking to prevent refugees from being resettled in the state. Two families from war-torn Syria are set to be relocated to Texas within a week.

The Texas health and Human Service Commission filed a lawsuit at the US District Court in Dallas, asking it to issue a restraining order and an injunction that would jeopardize the federal government’s resettlement plan. The agency wants a hearing to be held before December 9.

The agency accuses the federal government of violating its “statutory duty” to “consult regularly” with the state before settling Syrian refugees under the Refugee Act of 1980.

The International Rescue Committee, one of 20 private non-profits that have a state contract to resettle refugees, is set to bring up to six Syrian asylum seekers to Texas in coming days despite the state’s objections.

Texas officials have been criticizing the move and vowed to block further refugees following the November attacks in Paris. Yet in this case, the state agency says its lawsuit is not against any particular refugees, but simply about protecting Texas.

“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,” Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who called the International Rescue Committee’s actions “irresponsible,” has also said the agency offered “absolutely no guarantees” about safety ahead of the arrival of the refugees, with the first Syrian family expected to arrive in Dallas this week.

The International Rescue Committee responded in a statement saying that the Syrian refugees are “the most securely vetted group of people” entering the US, the Associated Press reported.

Three days after the Paris attacks, Governor Abbott joined more than two-dozen US states in threatening to bar Syrian refugees.

However, the governors’ protests triggered a warning from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, which said that barring refugees based on their country of origin or religion would be illegal.

Governor Abbott and Attorney General Paxton have been citing security concerns and demanding better refugee screening. However, that procedure, which includes background and biometric checks against intelligence databases, can take up to two years and will be administered by the US Department of State, according to resettlement leaders.

In mid-November, the US House of Representatives voted on a bill that would sharply increase the security screening of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, with a final vote of 289 in favor and 137 opposed.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, Texas has accepted some 180 Syrian refugees since Syria’s civil war broke out in 2011. The US was planning to receive 30,000 refugees from Syria in 2016, after hundreds of thousands flooded Europe this summer.