"Texas Loses Fight to Keep Syrian Refugees Out" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
Texas on Thursday lost its fight against the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the state, ending a monthslong battle during which refugees from the war-torn country continued to arrive.
Dealing the final blow to Gov. Greg Abbott’s effort to keep Syrian refugees out of the state, a federal judge dismissed Texas’ lawsuit against the federal government and a refugee resettlement agency over the resettlement of the refugees (This turned out not to be the final chapter of this story after all).
In an order dated Wednesday and released Thursday, Dallas-based U.S. District Judge David Godbey said the state did not have grounds to sue the federal government over in the case and failed to provide a “plausible claim” that a refugee resettlement nonprofit breached its contract.
The judge’s dismissal comes after several failed attempts by state Attorney General Ken Paxton to block the arrival of Syrian refugees to the state. Texas first filed suit in December against the federal government and the International Rescue Committee — one of about 20 private nonprofits that have a state contract to resettle refugees in Texas — saying they were violating federal law by moving forward with the planned resettlement of Syrian refugees.
In the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Paris that left 130 dead, Texas’ Republican leaders raised concerns about the refugee vetting process. Abbott in November directed resettlement nonprofits in Texas to halt the resettlement of any Syrian refugees last month.
But the federal government warned Texas it did not have the power to reject Syrian refugees, and the International Rescue Committee's Dallas branch informed the state it would continue aiding Syrian refugees placed in Texas.
(Refugee resettlement in the United States is completely funded by the federal government, but the state is in charge of contracting with local nonprofit organizations and distributing federal dollars to those agencies.)
Since the state went to court, 229 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Texas — 21 arrived in December 2015 and the rest arrived this year, according to the federal government's Refugee Processing Center.
In a short statement, Paxton said on Thursday his office was "considering our options moving forward."
“I am disappointed with the court’s determination that Texas cannot hold the federal government accountable to consult with us before resettling refugees here,” Paxton said.
Godbey's dismissal follows a previous ruling in which he said Texas was unlikely to succeed in the lawsuit because it had "no viable cause of action" against the federal government.
Paxton’s office in December dropped its first request for an order to block the resettlement of two Syrian families that arrived in Houston and Dallas that month. Godbey then knocked down a second request to bar nine other Syrian refugees from arriving in Texas. But the state moved forward with its lawsuit, saying the federal government was required to consult with the state in advance of any additional refugee placements.
Godbey on Thursday reiterated in his ruling that the state "lacks a cause of action" to enforce that consultation requirement.
Meanwhile, the International Rescue Committee celebrated the win. The judge’s dismissal “upholds and affirms” the United States’ history of providing refuge for those fleeing violence, Jennifer Sime, a senior vice president with the International Rescue Committee, said in a statement.
“The court is unequivocal in validating the lawfulness of the refugee resettlement program and reaffirms Texas’ legacy in welcoming refugees,” Sime said.