Texas Threatens To Sue Charities That Help Syrian Refugees Settle

Texas has threatened to sue charities in the state that help Syrian refugees resettle in defiance of orders from Governor Greg Abbott, CNN is reporting. Meanwhile, those same charities have received word from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement that states — such as Texas — lack the legal authority to deny refugees or to interfere with the work of aid societies helping the refugees.

The situation has put some Texas charities, such as the Dallas office of the International Rescue Committee, squarely in the middle of a fight between Texas and the federal government, with the agency in danger of losing its funding at a time when they need it the most.

Since the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris that claimed the lives of 130 people and injured over 300, concern has been raised in the U.S. about accepting Syrian refugees into the country. The Obama administration currently intends to accept over 10,000 Syrian refugees; however, the governors of 31 states — 30 of them Republican, including Texas’ Greg Abbott — have stated that their states will not accept any Syrian refugees. The problem is that those governors lack the legal authority to do so. So Texas, at least, has taken a different approach: threatening to cut off state funding to charities that help the Syrian refugees resettle. In a November 25 letter, which you can read here, Chris Traylor, executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, threatened to cut off state funding to the Dallas branch of the International Rescue Committee if they don’t comply with the Governor’s directive.

“The Governor has advised me that his foremost obligation is to keep citizens safe. The Governor believes that accepting refugees from Syria is incompatible with an absolute commitment to the safety of Texans because the President has shown the Governor no willingness to improve the security screenings of refugees from Syria, despite the abundant evidence that the screenings are ineffective. Governor Abbott has responded by calling for a temporary halt to resettlement of any further refugees in Texas until concerns about the effectiveness of security screenings are addressed. I urge you to cooperate with the State of Texas, as required by law, as we work together to implement Governor Abbott’s efforts to keep our doors open to refugees while at the same time keeping Texans secure… If you remain unwilling to cooperate with the state on this matter, we strongly believe that a failure to cooperate with the State on this matter violates federal law and your contract with the state.”

The same day the Dallas charity received the letter from the State of Texas, they also received a letter from Robert Carey, director of the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. That letter made it clear that states that receive federal funds may not deny “benefits and services to refugees based on a refugee’s country of origin.”

The competing directives put International Rescue Committee in Texas in the middle of a legal war of words that may someday be hashed out in the courts. In the meantime, the agency is defying the Governor’s orders, according to the L.A. Times, and continuing to assist Syrian refugees in resettling in and around Dallas.

Already, the agency has helped eight Syrian refugees find new homes in Texas, and the director of the agency said in a statement that they have no intentions of stopping.

Do you believe the governor of Texas is right to deny state funding to agencies that help Syrian refugees resettle? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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