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Texas Moves to End Legal Battle Over Syrian Refugees

After withdrawing from the federal refugee resettlement program, Texas on Friday asked the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss its appeal of a federal judge’s June decision that threw out the state’s case.

Houston resident Jazmine Myluhu attends a rally to protest Gov. Abbott's decision on Syrian refugees, organized by The Syrian People Solidarity Group. Nov. 22, 2015.

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

A week after the state officially withdrew from the nation’s refugee resettlement program, Texas has moved to end its legal battle over Syrian refugees.

In a short, three-page motion, Texas on Friday asked the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss the state's appeal of a federal judge’s June decision that threw out the state's case after finding Texas did not have grounds to sue the federal government over the resettlement of refugees within its borders.

In August, Texas alerted the appellate court that it intended to appeal the decision. But since then, the state announced that it would no longer participate in the federal refugee resettlement program, which helps thousands of refugees from around the world resettle in the state. (Refugees will continue to be relocated here.)

In moving to block the resettlement of those fleeing war-torn Syria over security concerns, Texas originally cited its participation in the program as its basis to sue the federal government and the International Rescue Committee — one of about 20 private nonprofits that have a state contract to resettle refugees in Texas — for vowing they would continue aiding Syrian refugees placed in Texas.

The Texas attorney general’s office, which represented the state in the lawsuit, declined to comment.

Donna Duvin, executive director of the International Rescue Committee’s Dallas branch, said the AG’s decision “reinforces” that refugee resettlement in Texas “is perfectly lawful.”

“The move also aligns with what’s actually happening in Texas communities, where refugees typically are warmly welcomed and supported as they rebuild their lives here,” Duvin said in a statement.

Texas had been largely unsuccessful in its legal battle to keep Syrian refugees out of the state since first filing suit in December.

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. Dallas-based U.S. District Judge David 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 that the federal government was required to consult with the state in advance of any additional refugee placements and that the International Rescue Committee had breached its contract with the state by failing to provide information regarding specific refugees.

In his dismissal of the case in June, Godbey reiterated that the state "lacks a cause of action" to enforce that consultation requirement.

Refugee resettlement efforts are completely funded by the federal government, and the state only served as a middle man to disburse funds. Once refugees pass lengthy, stringent security screenings, one of nine national resettlement organizations places them in communities across the country, where local nonprofits contracted by the state use federal dollars to help them find jobs, learn English and enroll children in school.

With Texas out of the federal program, the federal officials have said they will point another entity to coordinate resettlement efforts.

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