Abbott, Cruz Push New Curbs on Syrian Refugees

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas and Gov. Greg Abbott speak at a press conference in the Capitol about Cruz’s State Refugee Security Act, in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 8, 2015.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas and Gov. Greg Abbott speak at a press conference in the Capitol about Cruz’s State Refugee Security Act, in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 8, 2015.

*This story has been updated throughout.

Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas teamed up Tuesday to push new curbs on Syrian refugees entering the United States, with Cruz unveiling a new bill that would let states "opt out" of accepting some refugees. 

"America is a charitable nation, but we cannot allow charity for some to compromise the safety for all," Abbott said during a news conference with Cruz in Washington, D.C. "That is what has happened by the way that the federal government has interpreted and applied the Refugee Act that already exists."

The new legislation, known as the State Refugee Security Act, would let a governor reject the resettlement of a refugee in his or her state "unless there is adequate assurance that the refugee does not present a security risk," according to Cruz's office. Abbott is among more than 30 chief state executives who have refused to accept Syrian refugees following the recent Paris attacks, citing concerns about the United States' ability to vet the refugees for potential terrorists.

The news conference came four days after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Abbott's successor, abandoned the state's legal efforts to halt the arrival this week of 21 refugees in Dallas and Houston. Abbott emphasized Tuesday the state's lawsuit to block the further resettlement of Syrian refugees in Texas is ongoing, referring additional questions to Paxton's office.

 

"I will continue to do everything that I can to ensure that refugees from Syria who pose a danger to the people of the state of Texas will not be allowed to relocate into the state of Texas," Abbott told reporters.

Texas' fight with the federal government over Syrian refugees is unfolding against the backdrop of a presidential race in which Cruz has positioned himself as a fierce opponent of their resettlement in the United States. Cruz is also pushing legislation that would immediately place a a three-year moratorium on the United States accepting refugees from terrorist strongholds, including Iraq and Syria. 

Both Abbott and Cruz declined to criticize Donald Trump, the current GOP presidential frontrunner, for his call Monday for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." Cruz, who has repeatedly refused to speak ill of Trump, reiterated that he disagrees with Trump's proposal but brushed off questions about its constitutionality, saying he is "focused on my policies and the solutions that I am proposing."

"Certainly in the media there has been no shortage of criticism of Donald Trump, and I do not believe the world needs my voice added to that chorus of critics," Cruz said, praising Trump — as he has done for months — for "standing up and focusing America's attention on the need to secure our borders."

Abbott, meanwhile, responded to a question about the constitutionality of Trump's proposal by maintaining that the "correct approach" to the refugee issue is "precisely the approach the Sen. Cruz has articulated." Without addressing Trump's idea, Abbott said he believes Cruz's proposal is consistent with the Constitution.

Asked if he could support Trump in a general election, Cruz said he "absolutely" plans to back whomever wins the GOP nomination. "I hope and intend for that nominee to be me," Cruz added. 

The news conference served as a reunion of sorts as Cruz previously worked for five years as solicitor general under Abbott, who was attorney general at the time.

Later Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued a statement voicing his support for the new legislation allowing states to opt out of receiving some refugees. 

"President Obama and his administration may not believe it but we are indeed in a time of war," said Patrick, who chairs Cruz's campaign in Texas. "I stand with Senator Ted Cruz and Governor Greg Abbott calling on Congress to immediately pass much-needed legislation strengthening states' legal rights to block potential terrorists."

 

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