Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is following through on his promise to take legal steps to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees in his state.
But whether he actually has the legal means to do so is under question.
On Wednesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a temporary restraining order against the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the International Rescue Committee, a Texas non-profit, attempting to halt the resettlement of two Syrian families in the state.
Paxton claims the federal government is violating the 1980 Refugee Act, which requires the federal government to communicate “regularly” with state and local governments and non-profits regarding refugee resettlement.
“[Texas] has demonstrated Defendants’ breach of statutory and contractual duties by their unwillingness to consult in advance regarding placement of refugees in Texas or share information and closely cooperate with the Commission,” the state’s complaint said. “Whatever ‘advance consultation’ and ‘close cooperation’ mean, this is not it.”
But some immigration law experts say this is a peculiar reading of the law that doesn’t take into account the federal government’s ultimate authority over immigration.
“There is no legitimate basis for the Texas lawsuit because Texas has no legal authority to prevent a refugee who has been lawfully admitted, screened and cleared to enter the US from coming to their state,”
Greg Chen, the director of advocacy at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told Business Insider.
“Seems like a very far-fetched reading of the law,” Chen added.
Chen said that even if Texas loses its attempt to get a temporary restraining order, it can still pursue the case in court. But their short-term prospects for blocking the two families don’t seem very high.
“I think it’s highly unlikely that a judge would grant the Texas government’s request for a restraining order,” Chen said.
The federal government is the sole entity responsible for screening and accepting refugees. Though procedures vary at the state level, in many instances the states simply direct the federal government to in-state charities that provide or facilitate the majority of essential services for the refugee once they land in the US.
In its lawsuit, Texas argued that the Obama administration is not doing enough to inform states the identities of the refugees. To assuage similar doubts across the US, the Obama administration has recently said that it will provide “password-protected” reports to governors containing information about refugees who are resettled in the governors’ states.
For its part, the Texas Democratic Party lamented Texas’ legal action, saying that Abbott’s support of the case is “imperial.”
“Imperial Governor Abbott has given into fear. He continues to incite fear in the public, and has found a scapegoat to score political points off of nonprofits who care for refugees,” Manny Garcia, the party’s deputy director, said in a statement. “These are the very nonprofits that carry out the noble mission of ensuring that America continues to be the beacon of freedom, hope, and refuge that it has been throughout our history.”
Under Abbott’s watch, Texas has become one of the most aggressive challengers of President Barack Obama’s immigration and refugee policies.
Texas was one of the first of 31 states calling on Obama to halt resettlement of refugees from war-torn Iraq and Syria. And it is the lead plaintiff in a case against the Obama administration’s executive actions on deportation, in a case that could eventually land at the Supreme Court.
Abbott’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment on this story.
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