Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
Twenty-one Syrian refugees — including a dozen children — are set to be resettled next week in Dallas and Houston, the federal government said Friday. The announcement came two days after Texas filed a lawsuit seeking to block the arrival of refugees from that country.
In a court filing, the Obama administration on Friday said that the six-person Syrian family whose scheduled arrival to Texas prompted the state’s lawsuit will stay in New York City over the weekend instead of flying to Dallas on Friday as planned. The family will arrive in Dallas on Monday, and a second six-person family will arrive in Houston that same day. Nine other refugees — a family of eight and a 26-year-old woman — are scheduled to arrive in Houston on Thursday.
After the federal government made its announcement, Texas withdrew its request to block the families' arrival. But the state is still moving forward with its lawsuit requesting a preliminary injunction on Syrian refugee resettlement until the federal government and resettlement agencies provide Texas with more case information related to the refugees.
The 21 refugees expected to arrive in Texas next week include 12 children between the ages of 2 and 15, six parents, two grandparents and a Syrian woman whose mother is already in Houston.
The plans to resettle the Syrian refugees next week were unveiled in the Obama administration’s response to Texas' lawsuit, which argued that Texas has been unable to prove that the refugee families "pose any threat to the safety or security of Texas residents." The response also claimed the state had "speculative and uninformed fears about security."
Texas said in its lawsuit that the federal government and the International Rescue Committee — one of about 20 private nonprofits that have a state contract to resettle refugees in Texas — are violating federal law by moving forward with resettling Syrian refugees in the state after Gov. Greg Abbott ordered them not to do so. The lawsuit argues that the federal government and resettlement group have not fulfilled their contractual obligations to consult with, and provide information to, state officials.
In its response Friday, the federal government said the state’s argument is “without merit” because it has met those obligations under the Refugee Act of 1980. While the state was informed of the arrival of the Syrian refugees, the feds are not required “to provide advance consultation regarding individual resettlement decisions,” the feds argue.
The Texas attorney general's office is now asking for a hearing on or before Wednesday — two days after the first two families are scheduled to arrive.
"Texas shouldn't have to go to court to require Washington to comply with federal law regarding its duties to consult with Texas in advance,” Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement. “Our state will continue legal proceedings to ensure we get the information necessary to adequately protect the safety of Texas residents."
The legal battle over the resettlement of Syrian refugees was sparked by the November terrorist attacks in Paris that left 130 dead. After questions arose about whether the culprits had ties to the Islamic State, Abbott joined more than two dozen mostly Republican governors in vowing to bar Syrian refugees from the states, citing security concerns.
Despite Abbott’s directive, several resettlement agencies have said they plan to continue aiding Syrian refugees, and it appears the International Rescue Committee’s Dallas branch was the first scheduled to resettle any such refugees.
In a court filing on Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the International Rescue Committee in the suit, argued the state’s attempt to block Syrian refugees is illegal because it violates federal civil rights and discrimination laws that protect refugees from discrimination on the basis of nationality.
While the International Rescue Committee is required by law to work in “close cooperation” with the state, “the plain and ordinary meaning of ‘cooperation’ does not mean that IRC must do whatever the State says — especially when that is an order to discriminate against refugee families on the basis of nationality,” the ACLU lawyers wrote.
At least 242 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Texas since 2012. That number is relatively small for Texas — a hotbed for refugee resettlement — but the count of Syrian refugees was expected to increase significantly in the next year as the United States prepares to take in as many as 10,000 Syrian refugees.
Refugee resettlement in the United States is completely funded by the federal government. The U.S. Department of State is responsible for refugee admissions, processing applications received through the United Nations and conducting security screenings — a process that can take up to two years.
Once refugees are cleared by the State department, they are assigned to one of nine national refugee resettlement organizations that place people in communities across the country. Those organizations' local affiliates manage the resettlement process, including helping them find jobs, enroll their children in school and become fluent English speakers.
The state is in charge of contracting with local nonprofit organizations and distributing federal dollars to those agencies. Texas also oversees health assistance to refugees through two federally funded programs.