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Texas Backs Down From Effort to Block Syrian Refugees

4 Dec

DALLAS — Texas stopped trying Friday to block Syrian refugees from resettling in the state after suing the U.S. government over fears that new arrivals from the war-torn country could pose a security risk.

The swift reversal defused a lawsuit the Obama administration criticized as unfounded. Since the Paris attacks, at least 29 U.S. governors have vowed to keep new Syrian refugees outside their state borders. Texas on Wednesday became the first to take the federal government to court, but legal experts called the lawsuit futile, saying states have no authority over resettlements.

“I think that it’s the first sign that Texas is beginning to see the light,” said Cecillia Wang of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is defending a resettlement group that Texas also sued.

One Syrian family, which includes two children ages 3 and 6 and their grandparents, was expected to arrive in Dallas on Monday. Details about the refugees were closely guarded by resettlement organizers over safety concerns. Last month, armed protesters with long guns staged a small demonstration outside a suburban Dallas mosque.

A total of 21 Syrian refugees, most of whom are 13 years old or younger, are scheduled to resettle next week in Dallas and Houston.

“All they’re asking for is safety,” said Lucy Carrigan, spokeswoman for the nonprofit International Rescue Committee, which is coordinating the Dallas resettlements.

Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had claimed that the IRC handed over few details about the refugees and no assurances about whether they posed a threat. He accused the IRC of violating federal law by not cooperating with the state after Abbott last month ordered resettlement groups in Texas to stop accepting Syrians.

Paxton wanted a federal judge to immediately halt the resettlements, but dropped that request Friday after the Obama administration and ACLU attacked the state’s argument in court papers as frivolous. Federal courts — including the U.S. Supreme Court — have long ruled that immigration is a federal responsibility.

Paxton said the lawsuit succeeded in cajoling “requested information” about the refugees but did not elaborate. He still wants a federal judge next week to make the Obama administration provide assurances that the state will be consulted on future refugees.

“Our state will continue legal proceedings to ensure we get the information necessary to adequately protect the safety of Texas residents,” Paxton said.

Donna Duvin, the IRC’s executive director in Dallas, said in a sworn declaration included in the court filing that not only was information already being shared but Texas had only wanted to know dates of arrivals and the number of Syrian refugees coming to the state.

She said that a day before the Paris attacks, her nonprofit provided Texas officials with a spreadsheet that listed a proposed number of 200 to 250 Syrians refugees expected this fiscal year. The spreadsheet said that IRC and state health officials had received “some anti-Muslim communication” and that was being “closely monitored,” without elaborating. Duvin said she then again provided information after receiving two letters from the state last month.

Although the Paris attacks prompted Texas’ hardline stance against Syrian refugees, Gov. Greg Abbott has also invoked the mass shootings in Southern California this week that the FBI is investigating as an act of terrorism. On Thursday, Abbott tweeted a link to a story about the shooting and added, “Another example of why Texas is taking a strong stand.”

The Obama administration has announced plans to accept about 10,000 Syrian refugees nationwide and defends the screening process as rigorous. In Texas, the refugees set to arrive next week include a single woman hoping to reunite with her mother. A dozen of the refugees bound for Texas arrived in New York on Thursday and Friday and were greeted warmly by Democratic New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“We welcome them with open arms to the city of immigrants,” De Blasio said.

Federal officials told U.S. District Judge David Godbey in court filings that Texas was harming national interests determined by President Barack Obama. The state “made no showing that these refugees pose any threat, much less an imminent one” to Americans, the Obama administration wrote.

The refugees bound for Dallas are expected to take an apartment near other recent arrivals to the U.S. from Syria. Several Syrians have settled in one complex that is lower-income with a diverse group of residents and a security guard posted at the entrance. The family’s expected home is a few miles from the complex where a Liberian man lived last year before being hospitalized for Ebola.