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World & Nation

Judge denies Texas’ request for an order to block Syrian refugees

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a Washington news conference on legislation addressing the Obama administration's effort to resettle Syrian refugees in the United States.
(Jim Lo Scalzo / European Pressphoto Agency )

A federal judge has denied Texas officials’ renewed request for a temporary restraining order to block Syrian refugees due to arrive Thursday.

U.S. District Judge David Godbey in Dallas on Wednesday dismissed the state’s argument that “terrorists could have infiltrated the Syrian refugees and could commit acts of terrorism in Texas” as based on evidence that was “largely speculative hearsay.”

In an order denying the request, Godbey wrote that the state “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.”

The state is still pursuing the lawsuit to stop Syrian refugees.

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“Federal law requires the Obama administration to work with the states in the refugee resettling process. The safety and security of Texans is our utmost priority, and we will continue our efforts to get information from the federal government and ensure Texas has a seat at the table moving forward,” said Cynthia Meyer, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general’s office.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was among more than a dozen state leaders who last month vowed to refuse Syrian refugees due to security concerns after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris. This month, the state sued the federal government and a refugee group to block Syrian refugees, but backed off on a request for a restraining order last week, allowing several families to reach Dallas and Houston.

More were expected Thursday, a total of 21 individuals this week. Texas resettled more Syrian refugees than any state other than California during the last five years, more than 240 people.

At a briefing in Washington on Tuesday, Abbott joined Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a Republican presidential candidate, in announcing proposed legislation that would give governors greater power to reject Syrian refugees.

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Abbott said Wednesday that the state attorney general’s office renewed its request for a restraining order “in light of alarming comments made by the House Homeland Security Committee chairman and testimony by the deputy director of homeland security at the Texas Department of Public Safety.”

The governor said the restraining order was necessary “to ensure refugees coming to the United States will be vetted in a way that does not compromise the safety of Americans and Texans.”

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the House Homeland Security Committee chairman, said this week that the National Counterterrorism Center has identified “individuals with ties to terrorist groups in Syria attempting to gain entry to the U.S. through the U.S. refugee program.”

And in testimony filed Wednesday with the Texas attorney general’s office, the deputy director of homeland security for the Texas Department of Public Safety, Robert Bodisch, said, “There is reason to believe that ISIS will exploit the refugee program, either by sending ISIS operatives to the United States or by supporting and recruiting refugees who are already in the United States.” He was referring to the terrorist group Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS. 

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The state attorney general’s office included a four-page statement from Bodisch with the request for the restraining order Wednesday in which he expressed “serious security concerns with the process for vetting refugees from Syria and other countries overrun by ISIS” due to a “lack of identifying documents.”

Bodisch said that’s less of a problem for Iraqi refugees, since the U.S. has “assets on the ground in Iraq and access to the Iraqi government’s files” to vet them.

Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the refugee group that was sued, the New York-based International Rescue Committee, praised the judge’s decision.

“The refugee families on their way here can be resettled without delay,” said Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas. “We are pleased that the court refused to let the state of Texas interfere with humanitarian aid to people fleeing war and violence.”

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A spokeswoman for the Justice Department, which is representing the federal government in the lawsuit, declined to comment.

Twitter: @mollyhf


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