Why Texas is now welcoming Syrian refugees

Texas was the first state to attempt to legally halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees. It will now take 21 more.

David J. Phillip/AP
People hold signs during a rally to show support for Muslim members of the community near the Clear Lake Islamic Center in Webster, Texas on Friday. Members of several Unitarian Universalist churches and the Unitarian Voices for Justice group showed their support as attendees made their way to the center for Friday prayers. Organizers said the rally was scheduled prior to Wednesday's mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif.

One of the first states to come out saying it would refuse to accept any Syrian refugees, has reversed course.

The sudden about-face came hours after the federal government took steps to force the state's hand.

Fears that terrorists could gain entry into the country by posing as refugees flying the bloody civil war in Syria arose following the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris. Initial reports following the series of concerted attacks suggested that one of the perpetrators may have entered France under the pretense of fleeing violence Syria. Those reports were later deemed unfounded, but not before more than governors in more than 30 states declared that they would not accept any Syrian refugees in their state.

Texas officials had filed for a restraining order against 21 refugees scheduled to be settled in the state next week. The state withdrew that request on Friday, but reserved the right to press in the courts for additional screening measures.

"Our state will continue legal proceedings to ensure we get the information necessary to adequately protect the safety of Texas residents," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. 

Texas dropped the temporary restraining order just hours after the US Justice Department filed papers in federal court, asserting the state had no legal grounding to act on immigration policy and could not stop refugees from resettling.

The International Rescue Committee, the relief agency resettling the refugees, filed a separate lawsuit against the state asserting that Texas could not discriminate against refugees based on nationality.

"Texas is not discriminating against all refugees, only Syrian refugees," the International Rescue Committee said in its filing.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott initially tried to block the resettlement of Syrians in Texas over concerns that the security screening process could allow terrorists to be relocated. The temporary restraining order was withdrawn after saying the US government had provided additional information about the refugee group.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission sued both the US government and the International Rescue Committee earlier this week to block resettlement in Texas.

The state has asked for a Dec. 9 court date for a separate injunction to halt Syrian resettlement.

The decisions in the injunction lawsuit and the various other lawsuit linked to Syrian refugee resettlement could set precedents for whether state governors have any legal means to bar resettlement.

Some 243 Syrian refugees have resettled in Texas since 2011 and the start of the Syrian civil war. 

This report includes material from Reuters.

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