A non-binding legal opinion issued by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton states that Texas can withhold federal funding to nonprofit refugee resettlement groups if these groups ignore the state’s security verification program for Syrian and Iraqi refugees being sent to the state.
Paxton on Tuesday issued a legal opinion that says the federal statute that governs these refugee resettlement grants is unenforceable because it does not tell the state how it must spend the money. And because there is nothing directing the state, Texas could institute its own security verification program of the refugees being sent to the state.
Bee Morehead is the executive director for Texas Impact, a non-profit that represents several refugee groups operating in Texas. Morehead said the attorney general’s opinion doesn’t really answer state lawmakers questions about what role the state of Texas can play in screening refugees for security risks.
“To the extent that legislators appear to have questions about the vetting process for refugees coming into the United States, this opinion doesn’t appear to shed any light on whether the State of Texas does or does not have a role," Morehead said.
When reporters at a separate press event near the capitol asked Paxton to clarify his 3-page legal opinion, he refused to take questions on the subject. The opinion would make Texas’ controversial plan to background check every refugee in the state legal until challenged in court. That is one of the reasons resettlement nonprofits are combing through the latest AG opinion. Chris Kelly is with Refugee Services of Texas, the group that was sued by the state in 2015 for refusing to stop resettling Syrian refugees in Texas.
“We just received this opinion from the Office of the Attorney General and are in consultation with our state and federal partners to determine its implications. But as noted in the past, people that come to United States as refugees care deeply about the safety and security of the U.S. They are also the single most scrutinized and vetted individuals who travel to the U.S.," Kelly said.
In February, Dallas Federal Judge David Godsby denied the state’s request to halt the federal refugee resettlement program in Texas because of security concerns cited by state officials. Godsby ruled that the state failed to show proof that there is any type of credible threat linking terrorist groups like ISIS to refugees that are screened and sent to live in Texas.
The state alleges that the federal government and its non-profit partners are obligated to consult with state officials about the placement of refugees in Texas, but since last year dozens of Syrian and Iraqi refugees have been relocated within various Texas communities.