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Judge: No Hearing This Week in Refugee Case

A federal judge in Dallas said Monday it will be several weeks before he takes up a case in which Texas is suing the federal government and a refugee nonprofit over Syrian refugees, according to a lawyer connected to the suit.

A child walks in a United Nations refugee camp in Turkey where thousands of Syrian refugees reside.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

A federal judge in Dallas said Monday it will be several weeks before he takes up a case in which Texas is suing the federal government and a refugee nonprofit over Syrian refugees, according to a lawyer connected to the suit. That is despite the state's request for a hearing before Wednesday.

In a conference call, U.S. District Judge David C. Godbey told attorneys involved in the lawsuit that he would not hold a hearing this week, according to Rebecca Robertson, policy and legal director of the ACLU of Texas, which is representing the nonprofit being sued. An aide to Godbey and a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice confirmed that. 

During the call, Godbey directed the state, the federal government and the International Rescue Committee, the nonprofit being sued, to submit briefings in the next few weeks, Robertson said.

On Friday, the federal government disclosed its plan to resettle 21 Syrian refugees in Texas this week. Also Friday, Texas conceded its request to block the families’ arrival, but Attorney General Ken Paxton said the state would move forward with its lawsuit and requested a hearing by Wednesday.

Though Godbey did not set the hearing, Paxton described the conference call as "a step in the right direction" because it resulted in a directive that the federal government should provide state officials with "advance notice of its intent to settle refugees within the state."

“The Obama Administration contends they have no duty to share with states any information on refugees. As a result of our lawsuit, the Administration has been instructed otherwise," Paxton said in a statement. He added that federal attorneys had offered information to assure state officials that the refugees headed to Texas this week do not have "material ties" to terrorism.

In the lawsuit filed last week, Texas argued 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.

Federal officials have argued that governors do not have jurisdiction over which refugees are placed in the states. In its response Friday, the federal government said the state’s argument is “without merit” because it has met its contractual obligations under the Refugee Act of 1980. While the state was informed of the arrival of the Syrian refugees, the federal government is not required “to provide advance consultation regarding individual resettlement decisions,” the Obama administration argued.

Two six-person families were scheduled to arrive in Texas Monday and nine other refugees — a family of eight and a 26-year-old woman — are scheduled to arrive in Houston Thursday. 

Refugee resettlement organizations and federal officials on Monday declined say whether the first two Syrian families had arrived in Texas, but the federal government’s online count of refugees placed in the Lone Star State now includes 12 additional people — six in Houston and six in Dallas.

Abbott joined more than two dozen mostly Republican governors in vowing to bar Syrian refugees from their states, citing security concerns after questions arose about whether the culprits behind the November terrorist attacks in Paris had ties to the Islamic State.

Despite Abbott’s directive, several resettlement agencies have said they plan to continue aiding Syrian refugees.

Refugee resettlement organizations and federal officials have said refugees undergo a rigorous screening process conducted by the U.S. State Department. Federal lawyers described Texas’ claims that the refugee families pose a threat to the security of Texas residents as "speculative and uninformed fears about security."

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