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State of Texas Wages Legal Battle to Block Refugee Families from Arriving

Suit seeks to deny resettlement to 'victims of terror' who have been through 'stringent' vetting process

A young Syrian refugee arriving in Serbia.  (Photo: Photo: Meabh Smith/Trócaire/via flickr/cc)

Following on its threats, the state of Texas filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against the federal government and an aid group to stop the settlement of refugees from war-torn Syria.

The Dallas Morning News reports:

The first of two Syrian families to be resettled by the International Rescue Committee in Dallas is slated to arrive from Jordan on Friday, said Anne Marie Weiss-Armush, head of the DFW International Community Alliance, a nonprofit that assists immigrants but isn’t one of the federal contractors that officially handle the resettlements.

The family is related to a Syrian refugee who moved to the Dallas area in February, Weiss-Armush said. The group consists of a husband and wife, their 4-year-old girl and 7-year-old boy, and the husband’s parents, she said.

The suit (pdf) charges that the defendants, which include the State Department, Secretary of State John Kerry, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the International Rescue Committee, have failed their legal obligations by "1) preventing Texas from receiving vital information to assess the security risk posed by the refugees in advance of their arrival, and 2) refusing to consult with the State in advance on placement of refugees in Texas."

As Al Jazeera reports, the suit "ask[s] the U.S. District Court in Dallas for an immediate restraining order and a hearing by Dec. 9 for an injunction that would prevent resettlement. It is also asking that no other refugees be placed in Texas until then."

In a statement announcing the lawsuit, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton calls Syria "one of the world’s most potent hotbeds of terrorism," and states, "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."

The International Rescue Committee responded to the suit, saying in a statement Wednesday: "Refugees are victims of terror, not terrorists, and the families we help have always been welcomed by the people of Texas. The IRC acts within the spirit and letter of the law, and we are hopeful that this matter is resolved soon."

In a separate statement also issued Wednesday, IRC said, "We hope that through this process the State of Texas will be persuaded that the refugee security vetting process is a secure one and that the State of Texas will come to recognize that Syrian refugees are the most security vetted group of people who come to the United States. They are also amongst the most vulnerable."

"The International Rescue Committee has a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of State and is bound by its terms with regard to the placement of refugees in the United States. We will continue to abide by the terms of our agreement and continue to resettle refugees, including Syrians, in Texas," the group added.

Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch's (HRW) emergencies director, told Democracy Now! last month that "it’s both morally reprehensible and factually wrong to equate [refugees from Syria as well as Iraq and Afghanistan] with terrorists. They're actually fleeing from the terrorists, and they’ve faced horrors of war in Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan. Many of them are coming with their families, trying to bring them to safety and a better future in Europe. And they should be welcomed."

HRW also issued a fact sheet  (pdf) last month stating: "Refugees to the United States are more stringently screened and vetted than any other group allowed to enter the country."

Texas' Greg Abbott was among the numerous governors who last month voiced opposition to the resettlement of Syrian refugees within their borders.

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