Texas sues to block Syrian refugees. Can it change federal policy?

The lawsuit is the first legal challenge by a state to the government’s refugee-resettlement programs.

LM Otero/AP
Maryam al Jaddou, center, looks on as her twins Maria, left, and Hasan sit with her at their apartment in Dallas Nov. 29, 2015. Al Jaddou decided to leave Syria in 2012 after her family’s home in Homs was bombed and there was nowhere safe left to live.

Texas officials have sued the federal government to stop resettlement of six Syrian refugees in Dallas. 

The nonprofit International Rescue Committee (IRC) is set to relocate Syrian refugees this week, despite objections by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. 

Citing “reasonable concerns about the safety and security of the citizenry of the state,” the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which oversees refugee resettlement for the state, sought a temporary restraining order against the federal government to block the Dec. 4 resettlement, Reuters reports

The Dallas Morning News reports that the family in question consists of, “a husband and wife, their 4-year-old girl and 7-year-old boy, and the husband’s parents.”

The lawsuit names US Secretary of State John Kerry, the US State Department, and others as defendants. The Lone Star State hopes to delay the arrival of the refugees for at least a week until a federal judge can hear the challenge by Dec. 9.

Mr. Abbot is among more than a dozen governors who, since the November Paris terror attacks, have said they will not resettle Syrian refugees in their states until their public-safety concerns are addressed.

The IRC issued a statement Wednesday night saying it "has worked in coordination with Texas officials for 40 years – to the benefit of Texas communities and the refugees we serve. 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."

The move made Texas the first state in the country to sue to block refugees. According to the United States immigration policy, which allows the resettling of refugees who face persecution, states don't have the authority to block refugees. In accordance with the Refugee Act of 1980, refugee resettlement within the US is managed by the federal government.

Texas is challenging the relocation based on the language of this act, which requires the federal government to “consult regularly with State and local governments and private nonprofit voluntary agencies” about the support and distribution of refugees “before their placement in those States and localities.”

Federal courts, including the US Supreme Court, have upheld that immigration and resettlement of noncitizens to the US is a federal responsibility and one overseen by the federal government.

For instance, in 2012, the Supreme Court struck down parts of an Arizona law targeting unlawful aliens in the state because it conflicted with federal immigration law.

"Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration,” said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, "but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law."

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, Texas has housed 180 Syrian refugees since Syria's civil war began in 2011.  

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