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International Rescue Committee

Look for the helpers

They’re at the airports now.

Luis Ruiz, an immigration attorney with his own practice, set up shop early Sunday at Bush Intercontinental Airport.

He’d seen news of attorneys around the country flocking to airports to help people detained under the terms of the executive order President Donald Trump issued Friday, and he figured duty called. So he arrived at IAH around 9 a.m., the first attorney of what would become a sizable legal operation, and set off searching for clients to counsel pro bono.

“It’s been escalating,” he said Sunday night. “People just started showing up.”

By the evening, they ran an impromptu law office at the tables of a Starbucks amid deafening chants of hundreds of protesters in the arrivals area of the international terminal. More than 30 Houston lawyers specializing in immigration, personal injury, consumer protection, environment, civil law and more, pecked away on keyboards and interviewed family members of those who’d been detained inside the terminal.

[…]

The lawyers gathered at Starbucks fanned out in search of waiting worried people who might be relatives of those detained. They offered their services and helped put them in touch with U.S. Customs and Border Protection for answers on the status of their loved ones. In isolated cases, lawyers said they were willing to electronically file an emergency habeas petition to a federal court to ask a judge to immediately stop a detention.

Aside from that, however, they acknowledged they have few effective options.

“The problem is there is no right to counsel. We don’t have ability to access potential clients,” [Geoffrey Hoffman, director of the immigration clinic at the University of Houston Law Center] said.

People who couldn’t help in that fashion gathered elsewhere.

Hundreds of chanting anti-Trump protesters swarmed George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Sunday, packing Terminal E to capacity until police barred entry to non-ticket holders. Dozens of pro-bono lawyers set up camp at a nearby Starbucks to help passengers who had gotten detained.

“There’s a lot of fear in the community,” said Arsalan Safiuallah, an attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations who attended the IAH protest. “I’m upset because I don’t think this is constitutional.”

Yehiya Aljuboory, a 29-year-old Iraqi man detained en route to Houston after traveling abroad, was held at IAH for nearly four hours Sunday. “Is it a crime to travel to visit your family?” asked his worried friend, 28-year-old Mohammed Jalil. “Only because he is Muslim.”

Earlier in the day, roughly 1,000 people gathered in downtown, just steps away from Super Bowl festivities, to make their voices heard. The divisive order resonated deeply in Houston, where more than 20 percent of people were foreign-born in 2013, according to nonpartisan think tank the Migration Policy Institute.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen the city as galvanized as this,” said Houston resident Bev Caplan, 39, who protested at Discovery Green.

A small reminder of who is being hurt by the actions of our deranged “leader”:

A woman traveling to Indiana to care for her cancer-stricken mother, a family physician who has lived in the U.S. for two decades, and a Minneapolis woman about to become a U.S. citizen were among those caught in the net cast by President Donald Trump when he banned travelers from entering the country from Muslim-majority nations.

We should heed the words of former Bush administration official Eliot Cohen.

To friends still thinking of serving as political appointees in this administration, beware: When you sell your soul to the Devil, he prefers to collect his purchase on the installment plan. Trump’s disregard for either Secretary of Defense Mattis or Secretary-designate Tillerson in his disastrous policy salvos this week, in favor of his White House advisers, tells you all you need to know about who is really in charge. To be associated with these people is going to be, for all but the strongest characters, an exercise in moral self-destruction.

For the community of conservative thinkers and experts, and more importantly, conservative politicians, this is a testing time. Either you stand up for your principles and for what you know is decent behavior, or you go down, if not now, then years from now, as a coward or opportunist. Your reputation will never recover, nor should it.

[…]

There is in this week’s events the foretaste of things to come. We have yet to see what happens when Trump tries to use the Internal Revenue Service or the Federal Bureau of Investigation to destroy his opponents. He thinks he has succeeded in bullying companies, and he has no compunction about bullying individuals, including those with infinitely less power than himself. His advisers are already calling for journalists critical of the administration to be fired: Expect more efforts at personal retribution. He has demonstrated that he intends to govern by executive orders that will replace the laws passed by the people’s representatives.

In the end, however, he will fail. He will fail because however shrewd his tactics are, his strategy is terrible—The New York Times, the CIA, Mexican Americans, and all the others he has attacked are not going away. With every act he makes new enemies for himself and strengthens their commitment; he has his followers, but he gains no new friends. He will fail because he cannot corrupt the courts, and because even the most timid senator sooner or later will say “enough.” He will fail most of all because at the end of the day most Americans, including most of those who voted for him, are decent people who have no desire to live in an American version of Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, or Viktor Orban’s Hungary, or Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

There are things we can do. Show up and protest if you have the capability. Offer your professional services if they are relevant – see this handy resource from the Houston Bar Association if you’re an attorney. Donate money to groups like the ACLU and the International Rescue Committee; there are other good options as well. Call John Cornyn and Ted Cruz at one of their local offices and tell them what you think. (If you can get through – it was nothing but busy signals for me today, and all the postings I see on Facebook say it’s either that or full voicemail boxes. Try anyway, you never know.) Add Mike McCaul to that list, too, especially if you live in CD10. Do something while you still can. Texas Monthly, Political Animal, ThinkProgress, and the Press have more.

State moves to withdraw Syrian refugee lawsuit

Good, though at this point it probably doesn’t matter.

A week after the state officially withdrewfrom 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.)

[…]

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.

See here, here, and here for some background. As the story notes, many private groups are taking on the work that our ever-so-Christian Governor and Attorney General refuse to have any part of. Since they made that decision, and since they had consistently gotten their butts kicked in court on this, they decided to cut their losses and move on to the next ridiculous ideological crusade. And so it goes.

We continue to cower in fear of Syrian refugees

Sheesh.

As part of its ongoing fight to keep Syrian refugees out of the state, Texas is threatening to withdraw from the nation’s refugee resettlement program if federal officials refuse to “unconditionally approve” a state plan requiring additional vetting of relocated people.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday said the state had informed the Office of Refugee Resettlement that it would leave the program unless the feds approved its plan to only accept refugees who “are fully vetted and do not present a security threat.”

“Despite multiple requests by the state of Texas, the federal government lacks the capability or the will to distinguish the dangerous from the harmless, and Texas will not be an accomplice to such dereliction of duty to the American people,” Abbott said in a statement.

[…]

In November, Abbott directed resettlement nonprofits in Texas to stop accepting Syrian refugees — a move the feds said Texas didn’t have the authority to make. The state has sued the feds over Syrian refugees and seen its case dismissed, though an appeal is working its way through the courts.

Meanwhile, Texas and U.S. officials have been negotiating refugee resettlement plans for the 2017 federal fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. Aside from the request for security assurances, Texas officials said they previously rejected a proposal by the U.S. State Department to increase the number of refugees resettled in Texas by 25 percent. They said they would only accept the same number of refugees relocated to Texas in the 2016 federal fiscal year: 7,633.

If Texas withdraws from the federal refugee resettlement program, it doesn’t mean refugees would stop flowing to the state; the federal government could distribute money directly to nonprofit groups here. Resettlement officials have said the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980 allows the federal government to designate an entity other than a state government to serve as the state refugee coordinator and disburse funding — a set-up currently in place in six states.

See here, here, and here for some background. The state didn’t just sue the feds, it also sued the International Rescue Committee non-profit, which remains the most mind-boggling part of this. I mean, these were and are religious non-profits doing this work. Can you imagine the uproar from Abbott et al if it were the feds meddling in the affairs of those religious non-profits? You don’t have to imagine it – the state is more than happy to join the fray on their behalf when it involves things like health care and birth control. Because that’s clearly what Jesus would do. (Just a reminder: The Catholic Church calls for welcoming Syrian refugees in America. Keep that in mind the next time you hear something about Greg Abbott’s self-professed Catholic faith.)

Anyway. This is unlikely to have much practical effect – as the story notes, the feds can provide assistance to something other than the state government, so it’s just a matter of having a different middleman. Mostly, what this does is tell us something about our state leaders. To be sure, it’s something we already knew. Texas Monthly and the Chron have more.

State appeals dismissal of anti-refugee lawsuit

Because of course it does.

Texas is appealing the dismissal of its lawsuit against the federal government and a refugee resettlement agency over the placement of Syrian refugees in the state.

In a notice dated Aug. 12, Texas alerted the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that it would appeal a June decision by Dallas-based U.S. District Judge David Godbey, who ruled the state did not have grounds to sue the federal government over the placement of refugees in Texas and that the state failed to provide a “plausible claim” that a refugee resettlement nonprofit breached its contract.

[…]

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

The U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment on the case.

In a statement, Jennifer Sime, a senior vice president with the International Rescue Committee, said the group is confident the court will again rule against the state.

“We’re disappointed that some Texas officials are wasting time and resources to re-litigate what a judge has already deemed to be unwarranted action to block Syrian refugees from entering the state,” Sime said.

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the appeal. Not really much to add here – I stand by all the things I’ve said before in this case. And I continue to utterly fail to comprehend the lack of compassion from our elected leaders. The Current has more.

State still resisting refugees

Because of course we are.

The federal government wants Texas to accept more than 2,000 additional refugees this year. Texas’ response: No thank you.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is putting the federal government on notice that the state will refuse to take in more refugees than it did last year and will accept only those who do not pose a security risk.

Texas on Friday submitted to the U.S. Department of State a 2017 state plan for refugee resettlement, rejecting the federal government’s proposal to increase the number of refugees moving to the Lone Star State by 25 percent.

“Texas continues to have concerns about the safety of its citizens and the integrity of the overseas security and background vetting process of the federal resettlement program,” Executive Commissioner Charles Smith wrote in a letter to the U.S. Department of State. “Americans face an undeniable terrorist threat that is imported through new manipulations of our national security protocols each day.”

According to Smith’s letter, the federal government is proposing to place 11,020 refugees in Texas during fiscal 2017, an increase of 25 percent over the projected fiscal 2016 figure. Smith wrote that the proposed funding is insufficient, as well, and concludes the state could accept a maximum of 8,605 refugees. It is unclear how many refugees have been placed this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

[…]

The state could land itself in court should it try to stop refugees from moving to Texas, said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, which represented the nonprofit International Rescue Committee in the case.

“In the course of this litigation, the Attorney General’s Office has acknowledged the state has no legal authority to block anyone from being settled in Texas. If the state attempts to do so, its actions would be illegal,” she said.

Refugees go through a strict vetting process in order to make their way into the U.S. and Syrians are subject to additional levels of review, according to Jennifer Sime, senior vice president of U.S. program for IRC, the resettlement agency front and center in the lawsuit.

“These are very vulnerable people who are fleeing violence and persecution and they’re coming here to live a safe and peaceful life,” she said. “We want to be able to support them in that process.”

See here for a reminder of the legalities. I’m just going to say this: I never, ever want to hear about how Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton are motivated or influenced by their Christian faith again. The “What Would Jesus Do?” question has an answer that is blindingly obvious to anyone with even a rudimentary acquaintance with the Bible, and it’s the exact opposite of what these guys would do and have done. Specifically on the question of Syrian refugees, the President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops “[urges] all Catholics in the United States and others of good will to express openness and welcome to these refugees, who are escaping desperate situations in order to survive. Regardless of their religious affiliation or national origin, these refugees are all human persons—made in the image of God, bearing inherent dignity, and deserving our respect and care and protection by law from persecution”. Greg Abbott, our Catholic Governor, does not come close to doing this. This is Christianity 101, and they all get a big fat zero. These guys cite their religious beliefs when it’s politically expedient for them to do so, and ignore them all other times. It’s hypocrisy at its most basic level, and they should all be called on it.

Texas anti-refugee lawsuit dismissed

Good.

Texas on Thursday lost its fight against the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the state, ending a months-long 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.

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 this 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.

[…]

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 added.

See here for the background. Just a reminder, it’s faith-based organizations that have been the ones working to resettle the refugees in Texas. It all has to do with that biblical what-would-Jesus-do stuff that Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton love to talk about when it suits their political agenda, but only then. In the meantime, over 200 Syrian refugees have been relocated to Texas, and the earth has continued to rotate on its axis. Let this now be the end of this foolishness.

State strikes out on Syrian refugees again

Too bad. Now give up already.

A federal judge has again denied a bid by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to block the federal government from resettling Syrian refugees in the state.

Dallas-based U.S. District Judge David C. Godbey on Monday rejected Paxton’s request for a preliminary injunction to bar the Syrian refugees, dealing another blow to Gov. Greg Abbott’s vow — made in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Paris that left 130 dead — to keep people fleeing the war-torn country out of Texas.

“The Court does not deny that the Syrian refugees pose some risk. That would be foolish,” Godbey wrote. “In our country, however, it is the federal executive that is charged with assessing and mitigating that risk, not the states and not the courts.”

The court cannot “interfere with the executive’s discharge of its foreign affairs and national security duties based on a possibility of a harm,” and Texas failed to prove that refugee resettlement poses a “substantial threat of irreparable injury,” Godbey wrote.

[…]

The state’s next move is unclear; Wise said the AG’s office is “currently evaluating” its legal options moving forward. In his ruling, Godbey said Texas is unlikely to succeed in the lawsuit because it has “no viable cause of action” against the federal government.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of Judge Godbey’s order. There’s still the matter of the other filing, in which Texas complained that the Obama administration had failed to give the state the seven days notice it was supposed to before resettling other families; the Justice Department has since apologized and claimed it has gotten back into compliance. I kind of doubt that changes anything in the big picture, but a slap on the wrist of some kind may be forthcoming. I don’t know what the state will do next, but giving up quietly seems unlikely, so we’ll see. The Chron and Trail Blazers have more.

Paxton takes another shot at Syrian refugees

Whatever.

In the latest controversy over Syrians seeking refuge in Texas, the state’s top lawyer on Tuesday again asked a federal judge to halt the resettlement of people fleeing the war-torn country.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told a U.S. district judge that the federal government should be temporarily barred from placing Syrian refugees in Texas after federal officials admitted they failed to provide the state with advance notice of a refugee family resettled in the state last week.

In a filing to Dallas-based U.S. District Judge David C. Godbey, Paxton said the Obama administration failed to notify Texas leaders about the resettlement of a seven-person family at least seven days in advance of their arrival — contrary to a federal court’s order, according to the attorney general’s office.

The government instead informed the judge about the resettlement the day the family arrived in Houston on Jan. 22.

In their notice to the court, lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice said they “acknowledge and sincerely apologize” for not providing state leaders with notice about the resettlement.

“The failure to provide the required notice on the instant occasion was inadvertent, not intentional, and apparently occurred because of miscommunications among personnel within the Department of State,” they wrote.

Paxton also said the federal government broke the law by failing to provide adequate information about a new group of Syrian refugees that were scheduled to arrive in Texas on Monday.

The U.S. State Department’s list of refugee arrival shows 10 Syrians have resettled in Texas so far this year, all in Houston. The agency did provide adequate notice for three of those 10 refugees, according to court documents.

“The Obama administration continues settling Syrian refugees in our neighborhoods and communities under a cloak of secrecy,” Paxton said in a prepared statement. “The threat to our communities by foreign terrorists is real.”

See here for all past blogging on this topic. I’ll stipulate that the Justice Department screwed up here, and have earned a rap on the knuckles from the judge. But jeez, the bed-wetting fear from Paxton in that brief is just unbecoming. I guess it’s a good thing no one wears those “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets any more, because I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t like the answer.

Paxton’s latest Syrian refugee brief

A bit of a reach, if you ask me.

In response to the recent arrest of an Iraqi refugee who is facing charges of attempting to help the Islamic State, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a new court document Friday in a renewed effort to keep some refugees from being resettled in Texas.

Paxton’s brief came a week after the indictment of Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan, who came to Houston from Iraq in 2009. He was indicted on three charges, including attempting to provide support to a designated terrorist organization. He pleaded not guilty to all three charges during a court appearance on Wednesday.

The recent arrest in Houston illustrates “the type of security risk to our schools and our communities that we must prevent,” Paxton said in a news release, noting that Texas resettles more refugees than any other state.

“(T)here is a significant difference between refugees and terrorists posing as refugees to infiltrate America and cause mass devastation,” he said. “The safety and security of Texans must always come first.”

The brief seeks to ensure Texas can get needed information to protect its citizens, Paxton said.

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the brief. Not clear to me what the one has to do with the other here, but I guess Paxton’s gonna do what Paxton’s gonna do. Still no word about when we will get a hearing to determine the final outcome on the injunction request, but one hopes it will be soon. Trail Blazers has more.

Syrian refugee litigation update

From Trail Blazers:

The legal jousting continues over Texas’ effort to bar the settlement of Syrian refugees in the state.

Attorneys for the federal government and an aid agency this week filed briefs reiterating their opposition to Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawsuit over the matter. The aid group, the International Rescue Committee, asked that the suit against them be dismissed.

The filings cover little new ground in the dispute, which began after Gov. Greg Abbott in November said Syrian refugees would not be allowed in Texas. He and others cited concerns, after the Paris attacks, that terrorists might infiltrate the refugee program.

But U.S. Justice Department attorneys this week defended the refugee vetting process and rejected the state’s claims. They added that an injunction would “frustrate” the government’s efforts to “address the worst refugee crisis seen in a generation.”

Such a result would be “contrary to both the nation’s proud tradition of welcoming the world’s most vulnerable people to our shores, and the clear intent of the Refugee Act,” the attorneys wrote.

[…]

U.S. District Judge David Godbey ultimately denied the emergency action, saying the evidence offered by the state was “largely speculative hearsay.” But he also asked for additional information before ruling on the state’s underlying request for an injunction.

See here for the background. The filings in question can be seen at the link. We may get the hearing for this in the next week or two, but as yet no date has been set. I’m sure there will be more paperwork to come before then.

State strikes out again on Syrian refugees

0 for 2 and counting.

A judge on Wednesday denied a renewed attempt by Texas officials to block nine Syrian refugees from entering the state, describing the state’s safety concerns as “largely speculative hearsay.”

“The (state) has failed to show by competent evidence that any terrorists actually have infiltrated the refugee program, much less that these particular refugees are terrorists intent on causing harm,” U.S. District Judge David Godbey wrote in the two-page ruling.

The ruling came just hours after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a request for an emergency order blocking the nine refugees — a couple and their six children as well as a woman seeking to be reunited with her mother — who are scheduled to come to Houston.

The request was another stunning about-face for Paxton, who last week withdrew a similar request just two days after filing it.

In a court filing, the Republican said he filed the new motion after hearing two public speeches by U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, the chairman of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee and receiving a sworn statement from Texas Department of Public Safety Deputy Director Robert Bodisch.

“Evidence came to light after (a hearing earlier this week) that terrorist organizations have infiltrated the very refugee program that is central to the dispute,” Paxton wrote.

It was unclear if Paxton was only seeking more information about the refugees, as his office said would be his priority going forward, or if he had completely changed his mind and decided to try blocking refugees altogether due to pressure from colleagues such as Gov. Greg Abbott.

See here for the previous update. Lord only knows what was going through Paxton’s head, but it might be interesting if someone asked Mike McCaul, who has been reasonably pragmatic of late, what he thinks of Paxton’s filing. Be that as it may, let’s hope this is the end of it till January. You can see Paxton’s TRO request here, and Judge Godbey’s denial here. The Trib and Trail Blazers have more.

No hearing on request to bar refugees till January

So much for that.

A Dallas-based federal judge has denied a request by Texas state officials for an expedited hearing regarding Syrian refugees and will not rule on the case until mid-January at the earliest.

Judge David Godbey informed lawyers involved in the case of his decision in a closed-door conference Monday morning, according to Rebecca Robertson of the ACLU of Texas, which is representing the International Rescue Committee, the nonprofit that, along with the federal government, is being sued by the state.

A case docket posted online indicates the “status conference” lasted 15 minutes.

Robertson said the judge requested more briefs from both sides by Jan. 12 and indicated he would not issue a ruling until after that date.

The judge’s decision should ensure that dozens of Syrian refugees can be resettled in Texas over the next few weeks — including 21 this week — although that already was likely after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton last Friday withdrew a motion requesting an emergency order barring refugees.

An amended lawsuit filed by Paxton’s office Monday confirmed that he now is more interested in learning more information about Syrian refugees, rather than blocking them from entering the state. That surprising reversal seems at odds with Gov. Greg Abbott, who has maintained that he opposes Syrian refugees due to security fears inflamed by the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris.

See here, here, and here for the background. That change of direction by Paxton is indeed surprising, though at this time I don’t have any other information about it. Change in tactics, genuine philosophical disagreement, something else? Whatever the case, it looks like Greg Abbott’s bluff was successfully called. The Trib and TPM have more.

Texas drops request for emergency order on Syrian refugees

It’s something.

Texas officials have withdrawn their request for an emergency order blocking a group of Syrian refugees from entering the state and instead are seeking a broader hearing next week on how closely the federal government coordinates with the state on refugee resettlement.

The move almost certainly will allow two Syrian refugees families scheduled to enter the state Monday to arrive and could signal that the state may not stand in the way of future placements.

Attorney General Ken Paxton made the move in a two-sentence court filing Friday, the same day that Dallas-based federal judge David Godbey had been expected to rule on the emergency order request.

In a statement, Paxton explained he had withdrawn the request for an emergency order because federal officials had provided additional information on the refugees that the state had requested. He did not specify what the state had received.

It’s not the end of the legal action, of course – Paxton requested a hearing on his lawsuit on Wednesday. It’s not clear to me what exactly motivated this, but at least the families that are on their way can be taken care of.

In the meantime, the organizations trying to help these refugees have filed their response to the lawsuit.

The International Rescue Committee filed opposition this morning to a state of Texas agency’s request to halt resettlement of a Syrian refugee family of six and others, arguing the state didn’t show “irreparable harm.”

Dallas-based U.S. District Judge David Godbey could rule as soon as today on the request of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission for a temporary restraining order. The Syrian family is already in New York, said the IRC, one of nine federal resettlement contractors with the U.S. State Department.

“Plaintiff has made no showing that these refugees pose any threat, much less an imminent one, to the safety or security of Texas residents or any other Americans,” the brief and federal filings said.

The brief said that the Texas state agency seeks “unwarranted veto power over individual federal refugee resettlement decisions.”

The IRC attorneys said that the state agency made no showing of “statutory right or of imminent irreparable injury, that would justify such interference with the federal government’s authority.”

[…]

The federal filing notes, that since fiscal year 2011, 243 Syrian refugees have resettled in Texas. “Yet plaintiff does not explain how these specific refugees, mostly children, their parents and in one case their grandparents–pose a danger to anyone anywhere, let alone to the state of Texas. Nor can any supporting evidence be found in plaintiff’s exhibits…” the brief read.

Delaying the resettlement of the refugees, the brief said, “would prolong their suffering and inflict further hardship upon them that is unjustified by any demonstration of harm by plaintiff.”

The ACLU and the feds also joined in; you can see a copy of the feds’ response, as well as the state’s withdrawal request, here.

It must be noted that the state’s case to block the refugees is laughably weak.

The attempt to bar Syrians from Texas, supported by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other leading state Republicans, is constitutionally suspect and possibly illegal, said Denise Gilman, director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law.

“States cannot discriminate on the basis of national origin, so there’s a constitutional equal-protection problem,” Gilman said Thursday. “And there is a specific federal law that says federal money cannot be managed in ways that discriminate by national origin — Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.”

Michael Olivas, a professor who teaches immigration law and policy at the University of Houston Law Center, was blunter.

“It’s hard to convey the scorn or the sense of incredulity that is appropriate for this,” Olivas said. “It’s complete political grandstanding. States simply have no formal, final role in the determination of refugee policy or settlement. He is simply doing this to score absurd political points.”

[…]

It also could be argued, [Gilman] said, that Texas is in violation of the [U.S. Refugee Act]’s mandate for cooperation.

“The state is not engaging in collaboration, it’s engaging in a strategy of coercion to try to force the exclusion of Syrian refugees,” Gilman said. “It seems pretty apparent that what the state is trying to do is intimidate Syrian refugees and refugee resettlement agencies in an attempt to prevent Syrians from locating here.”

Like I said, though, you never know what a judge may do. Assuming this doesn’t get unconditionally tossed at that hearing next week, the next question is what Abbott and Paxton et al will do when other groups get back to their work of helping refugees relocate. Groups like Catholic Charities.

Up to 500 Syrians could be heading to San Antonio next year, but the state’s threat to shut off funding worries Catholic Charities, which is responsible for resettling refugees in the area.

“We want to work with the governor. We have shown we have not broken any laws,” said J. Antonio Fernandez, Catholic Charities CEO. He added, however: “We are not here to judge people coming from Syria, we’re here to help all refugees coming from every single country.”

[…]

Like other refugee agencies around the state, Catholic Charities received a letter from the governor advising about his orders.

“We responded back to the governor, telling him that we have to follow our federal contract,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez said Catholic Charities’ goal is to work with state officials, but the agency has to follow its mandate to resettle refugees fleeing persecution, religious discrimination and war.

“For our part, we just want to help people,” Fernandez said. He riterated, “We’re not here to judge, we just want to help.”

[…]

Erica B. Schommer, clinical assistant professor of law at St. Mary’s University, said organizations like Catholic Charities are in a difficult position.

“The governor is saying you can’t take them,” Schommer said, “when really, as a refugee resettlement organization, they have an agreement with the federal government to resettle people who are approved to come to the United States as refugees. Under the law, they can’t discriminate based on nationality or race or religion.”

Schommer said the problem is funding that’s filtered through the state. The money is needed to help provide services to refugees.

“If Catholic Charities does get families that are Syrians, without those families having access to food stamps and some of the other assistance that’s funneled through the states, there’s going to be a higher burden on (Catholic Charities) to come up with money to help those families make ends meet,” she said.

I ask again: Will Greg Abbott really sue the Catholic Church? Or does he actually have a sense of shame in there somewhere? Stay tuned.

Texas files its lawsuit against International Rescue Committee

I am at a loss for words.

Texas has gone to federal court in its efforts to keep Syrian refugees out of the state, filing suit against the federal government and a refugee resettlement nonprofit.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday afternoon in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton claims the federal government and the International Rescue Committee — one of about 20 private nonprofits that have a state contract to resettle refugees in Texas — are violating federal law by moving forward with the planned resettlement of two Syrian families. One such family is expected to arrive in Texas as soon as Friday.

The lawsuit argues that the federal government and resettlement group have not fulfilled their contractual obligations to consult with, and provide information to, state officials.

It argues that federal officials violated the Refugee Act of 1980, which requires that the federal government “shall consult regularly” with the state regarding the placement of refugees. Texas also alleges that the International Rescue Committee violated a separate provision of the act requiring the nonprofit work “in close cooperation and advance consultation” with the state.

The suit, filed in the Dallas-based federal court, asks for a temporary injunction barring any Syrian refugees until terms of the contract are met. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge David C. Godbey, a George W. Bush appointee.

“The point of this lawsuit is not about specific refugees, it is about protecting Texans by ensuring that the federal government fulfills its obligation to properly vet the refugees and cooperate and consult with the state,” Paxton said in a statement.

Declining to comment directly on the state’s lawsuit, the International Rescue Committee in a statement noted that it has a long history of serving refugees in Texas.

“Refugees are victims of terror, not terrorists, and the families we help have always been welcomed by the people of Texas,” the statement read. “The IRC acts within the spirit and letter of the law, and we are hopeful that this matter resolved soon.”

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the lawsuit. IRC is hardly the only group that resettles refugees in Texas, so this could be merely the first of many such lawsuits.

More from the Chron:

The family set to arrive Friday — a man named Tamman and his parents, wife and two young children — currently are staying in Jordan and are planning to board a plane on Thursday with tickets purchased by the U.S. State Department, according to Anne Marie Weiss-Armush, an aid worker assisting with the move.

“It’s kind of nerve-wrecking because it really is a test case,” said Weiss-Armush, president of DFW International, a Dallas nonprofit that helps residents from other countries. “It’s like, is Gov. Abbott going to meet them at the airport and send them away?”

DFW International already has obtained two apartments for the family on the border of Dallas and the northern suburb of Richardson, Weiss-Armush said.

[…]

In addition to Tamman’s family, the group is working to resettle another family of Syrian refugees, spokeswoman Lucy Carrigan said Wednesday. That couple and their young children are expected in Texas next week, Carrigan said.

The spokeswoman added that the the family serving as the first test case has ties to another Syrian who was resettled here in February — that man, Faez al Sharaa, 28, is Tamman’s half-brother, she said.

Faez, who told TIME Magazine that he fled Syria in early 2013 after being detained at gunpoint, has been very happy in Texas, Weiss-Armush said.

“Like most of the Syrian refugees we serve, he works at Wal-Mart,” Weiss-Armush said, although she added that he is looking for another job. “All he has ever asked me for is a job.”

I have no idea what will happen to Tammen and his family when they arrive. I suspect Greg Abbott has no idea either, and like most bullies is hoping to bluster his way to victory. I sure hope he loses, and UH Law professor Michael Olivas is quoted in this story saying the state knows it will lose and is just grandstanding, but Lord only knows what a judge might do with this. Everyone thought that the two lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act were slamdunk losers once, too. The Trib, the Press, the Current, the Associated Press, Paradise in Hell, Trail Blazers, and ThinkProgress have more.

Refugee group defies Abbott

It’s on.

A nonprofit organization that resettles refugees in the United States says it will move forward with the placement of Syrian refugees in Texas, despite warnings from officials in the Lone Star State not to do so.

The New York-based International Rescue Committee said in a Monday letter to Texas health and human services chief Chris Traylor that its Dallas affiliate would continue to provide resettlement assistance to all refugees “who have been admitted lawfully to the United States.”

The nonprofit had received a letter earlier on Monday from Traylor urging the International Rescue Committee’s Dallas branch to discontinue resettling Syrian refugees or risk losing its state contract “and other legal action.” The International Rescue Committee – one of about 20 nonprofits that have a state contract to resettle refugees in Texas — had previously informed the state that it would resettle two families in the Dallas area in early December. Both families have relatives in North Texas, the nonprofit said.

See here for the background, here for the letter from HHSC to refugee groups, here for the IRC’s response letter to the HHSC, and here for their public statement. I’ve said before that I have a hard time believing that Greg Abbott would go to the mat against faith-based organizations like the IRC, but these are the time we live in. The next question is how much company the IRC will have in litigation against the state of Texas, if indeed it does come to that.

At least 242 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Texas since 2012. That number is relatively small for Texas — a hotbed for refugee resettlement — but the count of Syrian refugees was expected to increase significantly in the next year as the United States prepares to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees.

At least one other resettlement nonprofit, Catholic Charities of Dallas, had said it would continue to provide resettlement assistance to Syrian refugees. But as of Monday afternoon, that organization had not received a letter from the state similar to the one received by the International Rescue Committee, a Catholic Charities spokeswoman said.

[…]

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission was unable to provide a list of resettlement nonprofits that have agreed not to assist Syrian refugees.

At least two such nonprofits in Texas say they haven’t made a decision about whether to continue settling Syrian refugees.

A spokeswoman for Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston said in a statement that it had not received a letter from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, “so no final determination has been made regarding our next steps for resettling Syrian refugees.”

Likewise, Refugee Services of Texas had not received a letter from the state about Syrian refugees, said Aaron Rippenkroeger, the president and CEO. The organization plans to “seek guidance on the ramifications” of federal and state requirements,” he said in a statement.

The more organizations that stand with the IRC, the harder I think it will be for Abbott to follow through. There’s got to be a way to ease up and find a compromise, but I have no faith that Abbott wants to do that. TFN Insider has more.