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Court Dismisses Texas Lawsuit To Block Syrian Refugees

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit in December against the federal government, in hopes of halting the arrival of Syrian refugees. This week, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais

A judge has rejected a lawsuit filed by Texas officials who want to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the state.

The suit claimed the Obama administration had not adequately consulted with states before placing the refugees. In his decision, signed Wednesday, U.S. District Judge David Godbey ruled that the state has no authority over resettlements handled by the federal government, which has authority over immigration policy.

Godbey also found the state had failed to present plausible evidence that Syrian refugees pose an imminent risk.

President Obama has set a goal of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States.

Since the suit was filed, the International Rescue Committee has continued to settle Syrian refugees in Texas. In response to the ruling, the IRC said in a statement, "Today's decision upholds and affirms America's proud history in providing refuge for the world's most vulnerable."

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement that he was "disappointed with the court's determination that Texas cannot hold the federal government accountable to consult with us before resettling refugees here." He said his office was considering options to "guarantee the safety of Texans from domestic and foreign threats."

Texas' failure to bring a successful suit blocking refugees bodes poorly for a similar lawsuit brought against the federal government by Alabama.

Cecillia Wang, the director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project and the lead counsel for the International Rescue Committee in Texas, told NPR in January that she felt Alabama was "trying to turn our national refugee resettlement policy into a political football."

Reacting to the decision in the Texas suit, Wang says, "[This ruling] sends the clear message to other states that such attempts are not only un-American, they are contrary to the law and will fail in court."

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley explained his state's lawsuit to NPR shortly after it was filed in January.

"The purpose of our lawsuit is to make sure that any refugee that comes into Alabama, they notify us on the front end so that we know who they are, where they are, where they're going to go and so that we can track these individuals. Not to try to harm them in any way but just to make sure that these individuals do not bring in any type of terrorist act or any kind of communicable disease."

Tennessee's attorney general is also considering a lawsuit to prevent some refugees from being resettled in that state, after a bill calling for a suit was passed by the Tennessee Legislature in April.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rebecca Hersher is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.
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