Texas Sues Feds and a Nonprofit to Block Refugee Resettlement

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December 2, 2015; Texas Tribune

In its latest move to block the resettlement of Syrian refuges, the State of Texas filed suit yesterday requesting a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. “The [Texas Health and Human Services] Commission also seeks to preserve the status quo pending this Court’s final adjudication on declaratory judgment claims,” reads the complaint, “the status quo being that, at present, the aforementioned refugees have yet to enter or establish residency in the State of Texas.”

The suit, filed yesterday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, alleges that the federal government and the International Rescue Committee have violated federal law by not consulting with the state in advance and cooperating with state officials.

As we reported yesterday, the state threatened the nonprofit with legal action on November 25th, giving it until November 30th to comply with its demand that they refrain from serving refugees.

An editorial in the Waco Tribune acknowledges that Governor Greg Abbott has a “tendency to wage war by lawsuit,” but (we hope) this suit appears to not have much ground to stand on.

Abbott wants the International Rescue Committee to abide by federal law in cooperating with him, even as he rejects very clear language in the U.S. Constitution that stresses federal policy takes precedence over states in immigration matters.

Refugee nonprofits recognize the Constitution is on their side. In a letter to Traylor, Texas Impact, a faith-based organization that crafts policy with theological grounding, said the HHS action “constitutes an unprecedented attempt on the part of a state agency to pressure private nonprofit organizations to violate federal law and their federal contractual obligations.” It then noted that, also by federal law, assistance “shall be provided to refugees without regard to race, religion, nationality, sex or political opinion.”

The editorial goes on to admonish the governor for showboating by threatening a nonprofit acting in a perfectly reasonable manner:

Abbott wants the International Rescue Committee to abide by federal law in cooperating with him, even as he rejects very clear language in the U.S. Constitution that stresses federal policy takes precedence over states in immigration matters.

Refugee nonprofits recognize the Constitution is on their side. In a letter to [Commissioner Chris] Traylor, Texas Impact, a faith-based organization that crafts policy with theological grounding, said the HHS action “constitutes an unprecedented attempt on the part of a state agency to pressure private nonprofit organizations to violate federal law and their federal contractual obligations.” It then noted that, also by federal law, assistance “shall be provided to refugees without regard to race, religion, nationality, sex or political opinion.”

NPQ will keep an eye on the legal fight unfolding here, but the hostility of this political environment makes a sad destination for any family fleeing the violence of their homeland.—Ruth McCambridge

  • Tricia Baker

    Has the world gone completely nuts? The goal of the fighters in WWII was to avoid this type of mess. I’m delighted that the Waco Tribune and nonprofits operating in Texas are standing their ground.