New York Times
By Manny Fernandez
June 16, 2016
Texas’ efforts to bar Syrian refugees from settling in the state were dealt a legal blow on Wednesday when a federal judge in Dallas dismissed the state’s lawsuit against federal officials and a nonprofit group that assists refugees.
After the terrorist attacks last year in Paris, Texas became the first state to try to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees by suing the Obama administration. Texas Republican leaders — including Gov. Greg Abbott and Senator Ted Cruz — cited security concerns and said they believed that people with ties to terrorist groups were exploiting the refugee program. Officials in other states, including Indiana and Oklahoma, have publicly refused to accept Syrian refugees as well, but only Texas and Alabama filed federal lawsuits.
The Texas lawsuit accused the State Department and other federal agencies of violating the Refugee Act of 1980 by failing to consult with state officials before resettling refugees. It also charged that the nonprofit relief group, the International Rescue Committee, had breached its contract with the state.
In his opinion, released Thursday, Judge David C. Godbey of Federal District Court ruled that Texas’ claims had no legal merit. Judge Godbey did not rule on whether federal officials violated the Refugee Act. The judge ruled more narrowly, finding that Texas lacked legal standing to enforce the Refugee Act’s requirement on advance consultation with states and failed to prove sufficient facts to establish a breach of contract.
“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,” said Terri T. Burke, executive director of the Texas branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the relief group along with the National Immigration Law Center and Southern Poverty Law Center. “We trust Judge Godbey’s ruling will dissuade other states contemplating similar discriminatory measures.”
The Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, suggested in a statement that further legal action was possible.
“I am disappointed with the court’s determination that Texas cannot hold the federal government accountable to consult with us before resettling refugees here,” Mr. Paxton said. “We are considering our options moving forward to guarantee the safety of Texans from domestic and foreign threats.”
In court documents, Texas questioned the effectiveness of the screening procedures for refugees and cited statements by officials that those with ties to terrorist groups in Syria had tried to enter the United States through the federal refugee program. In January, Texas officials publicly seized on the arrest in Houston of an Iraqi-born refugee from the Palestinian territories as a reason the lawsuit was necessary. The refugee, Omar Faraj Saeed al Hardan, was charged with attempting to provide material support and resources to the Islamic State.
“Texas has a right to know who the federal government is bringing to Texas, where they are being placed and what they are doing to guarantee the safety of all Texans,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement.
Lawyers for the Department of Justice had called the state’s security concerns “speculative and uninformed” in court filings, and advocates said the Syrian refugees who have been resettling in Houston, Dallas and elsewhere in Texas do not pose a security risk.
“Refugees are fleeing violence and persecution and want nothing more than to live a safe and peaceful life,” said Jennifer Sime, senior vice president of United States programs with the International Rescue Committee.
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