AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas on Wednesday sued the U.S. government in an effort to block six Syrian refugees from resettling in Dallas this week.
The lawsuit comes after the nonprofit International Rescue Committee said it would place Syrian refugees in Texas over the objections of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
Texas, citing security concerns, is seeking to delay the arrival of the refugees for at least a week, until a federal judge can hear the challenge. The state says in the lawsuit that the IRC and the federal government have left Texas “uninformed about refugees that could well pose a security risk to Texans.”
The Obama administration has said that states don’t have the authority to block refugees. The IRC, which was also named in the lawsuit, has repeatedly noted that Syrian refugees are the most security-vetted group of people who come into the U.S. The Obama administration says that vetting is thorough and can take up to two years.
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Abbott is among more than two dozen governors, mostly Republicans, who have vowed since the Paris attacks to keep new Syrian refugees from resettling in their states, expressing fears that militants planning a terror attack could enter the country under the guise of seeking refuge from war-torn Syria. About 200 Syrian refugees have settled in the U.S. since the attacks, including in states whose governors resisted, according to the U.S. State Department figures.
In Indiana, GOP Gov. Mike Pence said he met Wednesday with Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph Tobin to ask him not to bring into the state a Syrian refugee family who is expected to arrive later this month after a two-year vetting process. Tobin said he would “give serious consideration” to what Pence said.
Abbott earlier Wednesday said the resettlement agency offered “absolutely no guarantees” about safety ahead of the refugees’ arrival.
“It is irresponsible for the refugee resettlement operations to put aside any type of security interest and continue to press on about this,” Abbott said, speaking to reporters on a conference call from Cuba, where he was wrapping up a three-day visit.
Texas threatened the New York-based IRC with legal action last week. The group said Monday that it would continue to help all refugees in accordance with its obligations under federal guidelines. Texas responded Tuesday with demands for a moratorium on resettlements until the state received “all information” on Syrians scheduled to arrive in Texas during the next 90 days. Texas also sent a letter to the State Department seeking information on the expected refugees to “satisfy our concerns with the effectiveness of the screening procedures.”
In a statement issued Wednesday night, the IRC said it “has worked in coordination with Texas officials for 40 years — to the benefit of Texas communities and the refugees we serve. Refugees are victims of terror, not terrorists, and the families we help have always been welcomed by the people of Texas. The IRC acts within the spirit and letter of the law, and we are hopeful that this matter is resolved soon.”
The Justice Department said it would review the complaint after formally receiving it. The White House declined to comment.
IRC spokeswoman Lucy Carrigan has said that two Syrian families are expected to arrive in Texas in the next 10 days, including the six who are noted in the lawsuit.
Texas currently takes in more refugees than any other state, including about 240 Syrian refugees since 2011.
The Refugee Act of 1980 dictates that refugee resettlement within the United States is managed by the federal government. State refugee coordinators are consulted by the federal government and the nine refugee resettlement agencies that have contracts with the government, but that consultation is largely to ensure refugees are settled in cities with adequate jobs, housing and social services.
Federal courts — including the U.S. Supreme Court — have upheld that immigration and admission of noncitizens to the United States is a federal responsibility and one managed wholly by the federal government.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Abbott said the IRC, not the State Department, had offered “no guarantees” about safety.