Syrian Refugees Allowed in Texas

State will take in 21 people

Ken Paxton (Photo by John Anderson)

Syrian refugees will be settled in Texas, according to a ruling issued in San Antonio on Monday. However, Texas Republicans are trying to rewrite the law to make seeking sanctuary even harder for those fleeing violence.

In recent weeks, America's anti-immigrant rhetoric has shifted emphasis from one false conflation ("immigrant equals Mexican equals undocumented worker/drug runner") to a new one ("refugee equals Muslim equals terrorist"). Even before Repub­lican presidential hopeful Donald Trump proposed blocking all Muslims from entering the U.S., there was plenty of grandstanding in the Lone Star State. On Nov. 16, Gov. Greg Abbott joined a list of governors refusing to take Syrian refugees, instructing the Texas Health and Human Services Com­mission not to assist in federal resettlement.

But there's a big problem: The granting of refugee status is a federal matter, not one for the states, so Abbott seemingly didn't have a legal leg to stand on. Last week, Attor­ney General Ken Paxton filed a federal suit against the U.S. government and aid organization the International Rescue Com­mit­tee, specifically challenging the settlement of 21 Syrian refugees scheduled for this week. He argued that sending them to Texas would violate the 1980 Refugee Act, as the state would not have been given enough time or consultation to ensure they had been thoroughly vetted. In response, lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department countered that Texas was subverting the Suprem­acy Clause by undermining federal authority, and trying to do so without any evidence "that these refugees pose any threat, much less an imminent one, to the safety or security of Texas residents or any other Americans." The IRC simply responded that the resettlement was firmly within the letter of the law, stating that "refugees are victims of terror, not terrorists."

Separately, on Dec. 2 Paxton requested a temporary restraining order to prevent a family of six refugees from being sent to North Texas. Two days later, he withdrew the request, but was still challenging the larger resettlement policy, and requested a hearing and ruling by Dec. 9. But on Dec. 7, during a conference call, U.S. District Judge David Godbey informed all parties that he required more briefs from lawyers for both sides, and set a deadline of Jan. 12 for the submission.

That means Texas will shelter another 21 of the millions of people fleeing Syria's violent civil war, over Pax­ton and Abbott's objections. However, enter Sen. (and presidential hopeful) Ted Cruz. On Dec. 8, he stood by Abbott to announce the filing of the State Refugee Security Act: If passed, it will require the feds to give states 21 days' notice of any resettlement. More­over, it would allow governors to reject any refugee if they feel the feds have failed to prove that they are not a security risk – putting the U.S. government in the vexing position of proving a negative.

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Greg Abbott, Ken Paxton, Ted Cruz, Syrian refugees

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