Texas Drops Appeal in Fight Over Refugees

October 10, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) — One week after quitting the federal refugee settlement program, Texas dropped its appeal of a federal judge’s dismissal of its lawsuit demanding more input on settlement of Syrian refugees.
Texas asked the Fifth Circuit to dismiss the appeal Friday.
In June, U.S. District Judge David Godbey in Dallas dismissed the state’s lawsuit against the United States and nonprofit International Rescue Committee.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission sued in late 2015, claiming federal officials’ failure to consult with the state about incoming Syrian refugees violates the Refugee Act.
Godbey was not persuaded, finding that individual states cannot set immigration policy.
“The court determines that the commission lacks a cause of action to enforce the Refugee Act’s advance consultation requirement,” Godbey ruled. “The court finds no indication that Congress affirmatively contemplated private enforcement by states when it passed the Refugee Act.”
The obscure refugee program became a hot political issue after the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.
Donno Duvin, the International Rescue Committee’s executive director, cheered Texas’ withdrawal of its appeal.
“Attorney General [Ken] Paxton’s decision reinforces the fact that refugee resettlement in Texas is perfectly lawful,” she said in a statement. “The move also aligns with what’s actually happening in Texas communities, where refugees typically are warmly welcomed and supported as they rebuild their lives here.”
The Dallas-based International Rescue Committee was represented by attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, the National Immigration Law Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Susman Godfrey.
The ACLU said Friday that Paxton’s decision to drop the case came days after the Seventh Circuit ruled in a separate case that Indiana’s blocking of Syrian refugees violated the Equal Protection Clause.
Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas said the state apparently “saw the writing on the wall.”
“Federal courts have unanimously rejected bids by some states to discriminate based on a refugee’s nationality as contrary to the Equal Protection Clause,” she said in a statement. “We call upon Texas to stop its pursuit of anti-refugee policies that are not only illegal, but contrary to fundamental American values of welcoming people regardless of nationality, race or religion and providing safe haven for families fleeing violence and war.”
Texas followed through on its threats to withdraw from the refugee program on Sept. 30. Gov. Greg Abbott had demanded for months that federal officials approve his plan to accept only accept refugees who are “fully vetted” and determined not to be a security threat.
Texas has taken in more than 1,100 Syrian refugees since 2011, behind only California and Michigan, according to the federal Refugee Processing Center.
Texas’ withdrawal from the program will not stop refugees from settling in the state, as the federal government will appoint a nonprofit to administer the program in the state.

From Courthouse News.

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Texas Backs Out of Federal Refugee Program

September 30, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday the state has followed through on threats to quit the federal refugee settlement program over concerns that incoming Syrian refugees are a security threat.
Last week, Abbott threatened to withdraw Texas from the program if federal officials do not timely approve the state’s plan to take refugees who are “fully vetted” and determined to not be a security threat.
“Texas has repeatedly requested that the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the director of national intelligence provide assurances that refugees resettled in Texas will not pose a security threat, and that the number of refugees resettled in Texas would not exceed the state’s original allocation in fiscal year 2016 — both of which have been denied by the federal government,” Abbott said in a statement released Friday.
In a Sept. 21 letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, State Refugee Coordinator Kara Crawford warned that if the agency failed to approve Texas’ amended plan for the coming year, the state would “interpret your silence as a rejection of the application.”
States serve as administrators for the refugee program that is fully funded by the federal government. Texas’ withdrawal will not stop refugees from settling in the state – the federal government will now appoint a nonprofit to administer the program in Texas.
Texas has taken in more than 1,100 Syrian refugees since 2011, behind only California and Michigan, according to the federal Refugee Processing Center.
The refugee program was not a prominent political issue until the terrorist attacks on Paris in November that killed 130 people.
Texas sued the United States and the nonprofit International Rescue Committee in federal court a month later, trying to block any further Syrian refugees.
Abbott claimed the Refugee Act of 1980 requires federal officials to “consult regularly” with state and local governments and volunteer agencies before placing refugees into new homes.
A federal judge rejected Texas’ request for a preliminary injunction in February. Hedismissed the lawsuit outright in June, concluding that Congress never intended “private enforcement by states” when it passed the 1980 Refugee Act.
Donna Duvin, executive director of the International Rescue Committee, condemned Abbott’s withdrawal as being “completely out of touch” with Texas values.
“Refugee families have lost their homes, their jobs, and friends and family to violence and war,” she said in a Sept. 21 statement. “They want nothing more than to live a peaceful life. The governor’s actions cannot obstruct our moral obligation to protect and welcome the world’s most vulnerable.”

From Courthouse News.

Texas Threatens to Quit Refugee Program

September 22, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – In its latest salvo against accepting Syrian refugees, Texas threatened to quit the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program if its demands for more intense vetting are not “unconditionally” met by the end of the month.
Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that Texas would quit the program if federal officials fail to timely approve the state’s plan to take refugees who are “fully vetted” and not a security threat.
“Empathy must be balanced with security,” Abbott said in a statement. “Despite multiple requests by the state of Texas, the federal government lacks the capability or the will to distinguish the dangerous from the harmless, and Texas will not be an accomplice to such dereliction of duty to the American people.”
In a Wednesday letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, State Refugee Coordinator Kara Crawford warned that Texas’ plan for 2016 will expire soon.
“If you do not approve our state plan as amended by Sept. 30, 2016, we will interpret your silence as a rejection of the application,” Crawford wrote.
Federal officials and refugee assistance groups dispute Texas’ claims of danger, saying the refugee resettlement program is the most difficult way to enter the country because of rigorous security screenings that take up to two years and involve several intelligence agencies.
Most refugee resettlement services in the United States are provided by nonprofit, religious and charitable groups — not government.
Aaron Rippenkroeger, CEO of Refugee Services of Texas, said Wednesday his group is “deeply disappointed” by Abbott’s announcement.
He said the threat to withdraw from refugee resettlement “is a departure from historic Texas values” and that the Texas and the country have “enormous capacity” to take in more refugees.
“Texas’ integration program, efforts and experience in the resettlement of refugees serve as an international model of success, resulting in the fastest and highest levels of self-sufficiency for those involved,” Rippenkroeger said in a statement. “To suggest otherwise is untrue and irresponsible. Providing security and refuge are not mutually exclusive objectives. Texas has accomplished both objectives for decades. Refugees remain the most scrutinized group of people who come to the U.S., having successfully undergone 20 layers and two years-plus of security checks and clearances, including extensive in-person interviews, biography mapping, biometric analyses, fingerprinting and other security measures.”
Texas has taken in more than 1,100 Syrian refugees since 2011, behind only California and Michigan, according to the federal Refugee Processing Center.
The refugee program was not a prominent political issue until the terrorist attacks on Paris in November that killed 130 people.
Texas sued the United States and the nonprofit International Rescue Committee in federal court a month later, trying to block any further Syrian refugees.
Abbott claimed the Refugee Act of 1980 requires federal officials to “consult regularly” with state and local governments and volunteer agencies before placing refugees into new homes.
A federal judge rejected Texas’ request for a preliminary injunction in February.
He dismissed the lawsuit outright in June, concluding that Congress never intended “private enforcement by states” when it passed the Refugee Act.

From Courthouse News.

Federal Judge Rules Texas Can’t Keep Out Syrian Refugees

June 16, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) — Dismissing a lawsuit by Texas over the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States, a federal judge said Thursday that states cannot set immigration policy.
U.S. District Judge David C. Godbey granted motions to dismiss by the U.S. government and nonprofit International Rescue Committee, concluding that Texas Health and Human Services Commission failed to state a plausible claim for relief.
Texas sued in December, claiming federal officials failed to consult with the state about six incoming Syrian refugees in violation of the Refugee Act.
Texas also sought declaratory judgment, claiming the resettlement was an illegal agency action under the Administrative Procedure Act, or APA, due to the lack of consultation.
“The court determines that the commission lacks a cause of action to enforce the Refugee Act’s advance consultation requirement,” Godbey wrote in Wednesday’s 19-page order. “The court finds no indication that Congress affirmatively contemplated private enforcement by states when it passed the Refugee Act.”
The judge said “it is highly improbable that Congress absentmindedly forgot to mention an intended private action” when it created a statutory scheme with express provisions for private enforcement in certain circumstances.
Godbey said the legislative history of the Refugee Act “says nothing” about individual states enforcing a statute through a private cause of action.
“In fact, the House Committee on the Judiciary, in considering the House version of a 1986 amendment to the Refugee Act, noted that the consultation requirement is ‘not intended to give states and localities any veto power over refugee placement decisions, but rather to ensure their input into the process and to improve their resettlement planning capacity,'” he wrote.
Regarding Texas’ APA claim, Godbey said alleged lack of advance notices “are not final agency actions reviewable” by the court.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he is “disappointed” with the dismissal.
“We are considering our options moving forward to guarantee the safety of Texans from domestic and foreign threats,” he said in a statement Thursday.
In February, Godbey rejected Texas’ motion for a preliminary injunction blocking more Syrian refugees. He concluded then the dispute is a political issue that is not up to the states or federal courts.
Federal officials argued in January that Texas had failed to prove the refugees are a threat to the public.

From Courthouse News.

Texas Plan to Block Syrian Refugees Upended

February 9, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Texas cannot stop Syrian refugees from entering and living in the state because it’s a political issue that is not up to the states or federal courts, a federal judge ruled Monday.
U.S. District Judge David Godbey rejected Texas’ request for a preliminary injunction against the federal government and the International Rescue Committee on Monday evening.
Texas sued the United States and the IRC in December, claiming Washington violated the Refugee Act of 1980 by failing to “consult regularly” with state and local governments before placing refugees.
But Godbey concluded there is “no substantial threat of irreparable injury” in allowing refugees to live in Texas. He cited Texas’ declaration, through a terrorism expert, that Syrian refugees pose a greater risk than other refugees.
“He offers no evidence, however, from which the court could determine that the risk is substantial,” Godbey wrote in the 11-page order. “He establishes the arrests and/or indictment of two refugees on terrorism charges. Of course, the arrest or indictment of a defendant is not evidence of guilt.”
While acknowledging that it would be “foolish” to deny that Syrian refugees pose “some risk,” Godbey said the federal executive branch is tasked with “assessing and mitigating” such a risk – not the federal courts or states.
“It is certainly possible that a Syrian refugee resettled in Texas could commit a terrorist act, which would be tragic,” Godbey wrote. “The court, however, cannot interfere with the executive’s discharge of its foreign affairs and national security duties based on a possibility of harm, but only on a proper showing of substantial threat of irreparable injury and a legal right to relief.”
Godbey wrote that Texas, “perhaps the reddest of red states,” is “somewhat ironically” asking the court to “stick its judicial nose into this political morass” without statutory authority. “Finding no such authorization, this court will leave resolution of these difficult issues to the political process.”
Godbey’s order came as a surprise to no one. States have extremely limited, if any, legal power to control immigration, and refugees are customarily granted legal status before they enter the United States. They are therefore not “undocumented” at any time from the moment they set on U.S. soil, and no state has the power to prevent legal U.S. residents from entering it.
The ruling comes two months after Godbey rejected Texas’ request for a temporary restraining order. He dismissed the state’s evidence at the time as “largely speculative hearsay,” saying he “has no institutional competency to assess” the risk of terrorism.

From Courthouse News.

Texas Calls Out Feds for Violating Court Order In Refugee Row

December 27, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Texas continued its legal war with the federal government Tuesday, claiming Washington violated a court order to give seven days notice before resettling Syrian refugees in the state, by sending seven refugees to Houston on Friday.
Texas sued the United States and the nonprofit International Rescue Commission in December, claiming they violated the Refugee Act of 1980 by failing to “consult regularly” with state and local governments and nonprofit agencies before placing refugees.
On Dec. 7, U.S. District Judge David Godbey ordered federal officials to give the advance notice, but Texas says it got no notice about the seven refugees until the day of their arrival, Jan. 22.
Texas claims the IRC failed to comply with its Dec. 1 demand not to resettle six Syrians in Dallas “until we have receive[d] the requested information and our concerns with screening procedures have been appropriately addressed” by federal officials.
Texas sought an injunction last week, fueled by the arrest of an Iraqi refugee in Houston on terror charges.
Attorney General Ken Paxton moved again for an injunction on Tuesday, accusing President Barack Obama of continuing to send Syrian refugees to Texas “under a cloak of secrecy.”
“The threat to our communities by foreign terrorists is real,” Paxton said in a statement Tuesday. “The greater concern is not what we know about these refugees; it’s what we do not know.”
Texas said in its “Response to Federal Defendants’ Notice of Arrival of Syrian Refugees” that it “appreciates” that Washington quickly informed the court of its violation of Godbey’s order.
“But this circumstance is the merely the latest in a series of events that proves exactly why a preliminary injunction and ultimate relief are needed to ensure that Texas has, at a minimum, the information it needs to protect the safety of its residents while resettling more refugees than any other state,” Texas said in the response. “The harm that results to the state by this late notification is irreparable as a matter of law.”
Justice Department attorneys apologized to the court on Friday, saying the failure to inform was “inadvertent, not intentional, and apparently occurred because of a miscommunication” between personnel at the State Department.
Texas says it takes in about 10 percent of the country’s refugees, partnering with volunteer agencies and paying some of the costs.
Paxton said it was the second time in a year that the Obama Administration has “either defied or misled a federal court” on an immigration issue.
“In March 2015, the administration admitted that tens of thousands of expanded work permits had been issued to unauthorized aliens, in direct contradiction to the facts they presented in U.S. federal court,” Paxton said.
Seventeen interfaith religious leaders filed an amicus brief on Jan. 11 in support of the IRC and the federal government. They said Texas’ demand that religious groups discriminate against the needy based on national origin “is not just wrong, it threatens religious freedom.”

From Courthouse News.

Texas Renews Fight Against Syrian Refugees

January 19, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Emboldened by the arrest of an Iraqi refugee in Houston on terror charges, Texas renewed its demand for an injunction blocking Syrian refugees from the state without more information about them.
Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday filed a reply in support of an amended application for preliminary injunction in Federal Court.
Texas sued the United States and the nonprofit International Rescue Commission in December, claiming they violated the Refugee Act of 1980 by failing to “consult regularly” with state and local governments and nonprofit agencies before placing refugees.
Texas claims the IRC failed to comply with its Dec. 1 demand not to resettle six Syrians in Dallas “until we have receive[d] the requested information and our concerns with screening procedures have been appropriately addressed” by federal officials.
Paxton’s new filing came days after the arrest of Omar Farej Saeed al Hardan, 24, a permanent resident and Iraq-born Palestinian. He was denied bond on Jan. 13 after federal agents testified that al Hardan told an informant he wanted to plant bombs at two Houston-area shopping malls. The agents testified that al Hardan also told the informant he wanted to go to a military base in Grand Prairie – a suburb of Dallas – and “use gasoline to set fire and blow up Humvees .”
Texas claims the United States’ opposition to its concerns indicate the federal government believes “Texas has neither the right nor role” to protect its residents.
“Texas has a right to protect its residents and obtain full advanced consultation regarding proposed refugee placements – which is far more than after-the-fact notices of mass placements – including person-specific information before defendants place refugees in Texas,” the 16-page reply states. “Their refusal to provide the requested information before resettlement is a harm that cannot be remedied at law.”
Paxton said al Hardan’s arrest “is exactly the type of security risk” to schools and communities that must be stopped.
“Texas resettles, and welcomes with open arms, more refugees than any other state,” he said in a statement Friday. “But there is a significant difference between refugees and terrorists posing as refugees to infiltrate America and cause mass devastation. The safety and security of Texans must always come first.”
Texas takes in about 10 percent of the country’s refugees by partnering with volunteer agencies and paying some of the costs, Paxton said.
Seventeen interfaith religious leaders filed an amicus brief in the lawsuit on Jan. 11 in support of the defendants. They said Texas’ demand that religious groups discriminate against the needy based on national origin “is not just wrong, it threatens religious freedom.”
Immigration attorneys say Texas has no legal basis to keep legal U.S. residents out of the state, and people granted refugee status in the United States are legal residents.
The governor or Legislature may cut off funding to refugee groups, with or without a lawsuit.

From Courthouse News.