Texas drops request for emergency order on Syrian refugees

It’s something.

Texas officials have withdrawn their request for an emergency order blocking a group of Syrian refugees from entering the state and instead are seeking a broader hearing next week on how closely the federal government coordinates with the state on refugee resettlement.

The move almost certainly will allow two Syrian refugees families scheduled to enter the state Monday to arrive and could signal that the state may not stand in the way of future placements.

Attorney General Ken Paxton made the move in a two-sentence court filing Friday, the same day that Dallas-based federal judge David Godbey had been expected to rule on the emergency order request.

In a statement, Paxton explained he had withdrawn the request for an emergency order because federal officials had provided additional information on the refugees that the state had requested. He did not specify what the state had received.

It’s not the end of the legal action, of course – Paxton requested a hearing on his lawsuit on Wednesday. It’s not clear to me what exactly motivated this, but at least the families that are on their way can be taken care of.

In the meantime, the organizations trying to help these refugees have filed their response to the lawsuit.

The International Rescue Committee filed opposition this morning to a state of Texas agency’s request to halt resettlement of a Syrian refugee family of six and others, arguing the state didn’t show “irreparable harm.”

Dallas-based U.S. District Judge David Godbey could rule as soon as today on the request of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission for a temporary restraining order. The Syrian family is already in New York, said the IRC, one of nine federal resettlement contractors with the U.S. State Department.

“Plaintiff has made no showing that these refugees pose any threat, much less an imminent one, to the safety or security of Texas residents or any other Americans,” the brief and federal filings said.

The brief said that the Texas state agency seeks “unwarranted veto power over individual federal refugee resettlement decisions.”

The IRC attorneys said that the state agency made no showing of “statutory right or of imminent irreparable injury, that would justify such interference with the federal government’s authority.”


The federal filing notes, that since fiscal year 2011, 243 Syrian refugees have resettled in Texas. “Yet plaintiff does not explain how these specific refugees, mostly children, their parents and in one case their grandparents–pose a danger to anyone anywhere, let alone to the state of Texas. Nor can any supporting evidence be found in plaintiff’s exhibits…” the brief read.

Delaying the resettlement of the refugees, the brief said, “would prolong their suffering and inflict further hardship upon them that is unjustified by any demonstration of harm by plaintiff.”

The ACLU and the feds also joined in; you can see a copy of the feds’ response, as well as the state’s withdrawal request, here.

It must be noted that the state’s case to block the refugees is laughably weak.

The attempt to bar Syrians from Texas, supported by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other leading state Republicans, is constitutionally suspect and possibly illegal, said Denise Gilman, director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law.

“States cannot discriminate on the basis of national origin, so there’s a constitutional equal-protection problem,” Gilman said Thursday. “And there is a specific federal law that says federal money cannot be managed in ways that discriminate by national origin — Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.”

Michael Olivas, a professor who teaches immigration law and policy at the University of Houston Law Center, was blunter.

“It’s hard to convey the scorn or the sense of incredulity that is appropriate for this,” Olivas said. “It’s complete political grandstanding. States simply have no formal, final role in the determination of refugee policy or settlement. He is simply doing this to score absurd political points.”


It also could be argued, [Gilman] said, that Texas is in violation of the [U.S. Refugee Act]’s mandate for cooperation.

“The state is not engaging in collaboration, it’s engaging in a strategy of coercion to try to force the exclusion of Syrian refugees,” Gilman said. “It seems pretty apparent that what the state is trying to do is intimidate Syrian refugees and refugee resettlement agencies in an attempt to prevent Syrians from locating here.”

Like I said, though, you never know what a judge may do. Assuming this doesn’t get unconditionally tossed at that hearing next week, the next question is what Abbott and Paxton et al will do when other groups get back to their work of helping refugees relocate. Groups like Catholic Charities.

Up to 500 Syrians could be heading to San Antonio next year, but the state’s threat to shut off funding worries Catholic Charities, which is responsible for resettling refugees in the area.

“We want to work with the governor. We have shown we have not broken any laws,” said J. Antonio Fernandez, Catholic Charities CEO. He added, however: “We are not here to judge people coming from Syria, we’re here to help all refugees coming from every single country.”


Like other refugee agencies around the state, Catholic Charities received a letter from the governor advising about his orders.

“We responded back to the governor, telling him that we have to follow our federal contract,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez said Catholic Charities’ goal is to work with state officials, but the agency has to follow its mandate to resettle refugees fleeing persecution, religious discrimination and war.

“For our part, we just want to help people,” Fernandez said. He riterated, “We’re not here to judge, we just want to help.”


Erica B. Schommer, clinical assistant professor of law at St. Mary’s University, said organizations like Catholic Charities are in a difficult position.

“The governor is saying you can’t take them,” Schommer said, “when really, as a refugee resettlement organization, they have an agreement with the federal government to resettle people who are approved to come to the United States as refugees. Under the law, they can’t discriminate based on nationality or race or religion.”

Schommer said the problem is funding that’s filtered through the state. The money is needed to help provide services to refugees.

“If Catholic Charities does get families that are Syrians, without those families having access to food stamps and some of the other assistance that’s funneled through the states, there’s going to be a higher burden on (Catholic Charities) to come up with money to help those families make ends meet,” she said.

I ask again: Will Greg Abbott really sue the Catholic Church? Or does he actually have a sense of shame in there somewhere? Stay tuned.

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