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Rescue Group Says It Won't Comply With Governor's Directive on Syrian Refugees

UNHCR via Texas Tribune
A child walks in a United Nations refugee camp in Turkey where thousands of Syrian refugees reside.

Texas officials are warning refugee groups that they should not allow any Syrian refugees into Texas. Texas Health Commissioner Chris Traylor sent a letter the International Rescue Committee’s Dallas office saying the state could take legal action if Governor Greg Abbott's directive to keep out Syrian refugees is not followed.

The IRC responded Tuesday with its own letter, addressed to Traylor, stating that it would not comply with the governor’s order. Citing federal law and requirements from the U.S. State Department, the organization said that it would “continue to provide assistance and services to all refugees who have been admitted lawfully to the United States.”

While the federal government has clarified that governors do not have the authority to keep Syrian refugees from resettling in their states, the letter from Commissioner Traylor pointed back to federal law that says the resettlement organizations must cooperate with the state. And not cooperating could lead to a termination of the state contract, and "other legal action." Elissa Steglich of the University of Texas School of Law Immigration Clinic says that, even if the state ends its contracts with refugee agencies, the resettlement could legitimately continue.

"The programs themselves, if they receive money either directly from the Federal Government or through another larger organization that receives these federal dollars, they could certainly continue in their work," she says.

And as far as a lawsuit is concerned, Steglich thinks a suit against the state is more likely than one filed by the state.

"The state may face a lawsuit similar to what we see the governor's office facing in Indiana, on discrimination grounds. Both the federal and Texas state constitution[s] protect against discrimination based on national origin as well as religion," she says. The ACLU filed suit on behalf of a resettlement group in Indiana. So far, no lawsuits have been filed in Texas.

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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