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Texas Won't Block Syrian Refugees, But Isn't Dropping Lawsuit

Ververidis Vasilis
On Friday, the state withdrew its request for a temporary restraining order to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Texas. However, it's asked a judge for an injunction hearing by next Wednesday.

The legal battle over the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Texas took another turn Friday. Texas withdrew its request to block Syrian refugees from coming here. The state isn’t dropping the suit though – it’s asked the judge for an injunction hear by Wednesday.

A total of 21 Syrian refugees are scheduled to be resettled in Dallas and Houston next week.

The state’s decision to back down – at least temporarily – was welcome news for Rebecca Robertson, the legal and policy director for the ACLU in Texas. Her group is representing the International Rescue committee, or IRC, in the lawsuit. It’s one of the refugee resettlement agencies contracted by the federal government.

“I think it’s very good news for some of the families for whom there was some uncertainty about what would happen next but, of course, we still have a long way to go,” Robertson said.

Texas is the first state to sue the federal government over the resettlement of Syrian refugees. More than two dozen governors though have raised concerns about the process.

One Syrian family was slated to arrive in Dallas on Friday, but early this morning, court filings revealed the family would stay in New York City through the weekend and arrive in Dallas on Monday instead.

The ACLU filed a legal response early Friday arguing Texas shouldn’t be able to ban Syrian refugees. Robertson said the federal government – not the state – has the legal authority over immigration and refugee issues.

“And the reason for that is just pretty simple,” she said. “If we had all 50 states making their own policies, it would interfere with our ability to conduct foreign policy.”

Robertson said that the vetting process for these refugees can last up to two years and that there’s nothing that suggests they pose any danger to the public.

“I think the bigger picture though, regardless of the specific number that’s in the pipeline immediately, is that with the crisis that is happening in Syria and with the tens of thousands of people fleeing violence in that country, the president has determined that in the service of humanity, we need to accept more Syrian refugees in our country – up to 10,000,” Robertson said.

How many ultimately come to Texas remains to be seen. In a statement, Attorney General Ken Paxton said the state dropped its request for a temporary restraining order because it received more information from the federal government about the first group of Syrians scheduled to arrive next week.

Robertson said she’s surprised by the state’s opposition, because in the past, Texas has had a good record of welcoming refugees, including from Syria.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.