DALLAS (CN) - The International Rescue Committee shrugged off Texas' threat of a lawsuit and says it will continue to settle Syrian refugees in the state.
Texas threatened to kill funding for and sue the nonprofit refugee service if it defied Gov. Greg Abbott's refusal to accept Syrian refugees - an order Abbott issued without legal power to do so.
"Texas will not accept any Syrian refugees & I demand the U.S. act similarly," Abbott tweeted on Nov. 16, three days after the terrorist massacres in Paris.
On Nov. 25, Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner Chris Traylor sent the International Rescue Committee a letter threatening to sue it if it continued helping Syrian refugees in Texas.
Neither Abbott nor Traylor have any authority to keep refugees out of Texas.
Unlike political asylees, who generally enter the United States without permission and then apply for asylum, refugees are granted admission at an embassy or consulate outside the United States, and enter legally. As legal residents, no governor, legislature, or state or federal agency can prohibit a refugee from living where he or she chooses.
Abbott was one of 31 governors - 30 of them Republicans - who claimed the power to prohibit Syrian refugees from entering their states after the Paris attacks.
Abbott claimed he was barring Syrian refugees for public safety and because of the State Department's inadequate security screenings of refugees - a process that can take two years.
"I must ask that you fulfill your statutory duty to conduct your activities 'in close cooperation and advance consultation' with the State of Texas pursuant to section 1522 of Title 8 of the United States Code," Traylor wrote the Rescue Committee in his Nov. 25 letter. "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 relief agency said Monday it would continue to resettle Syrians, and urged state officials to honor Texas' "long-standing tradition" of providing safe haven for vulnerable refugees and its commitment to the Constitution.
"The IRC understands Governor Abbott's commitment to the safety of the people of Texas," the Rescue Committee said in a statement. "There is no doubt that what happened on the streets of Paris on November 13 was horrific and the actions of a terrorist organization. However, it is important not to conflate terrorists with the Syrian refugees who are seeking sanctuary in the United States. These are people who are fleeing violence and persecution inflicted by extremist groups and armed actors - some of whom are the same groups who took those innocent lives in Paris, Beirut, and on a Russian airliner, all in the past month." Syrians are the most thoroughly vetted group of refugees to enter the United States, the IRC said.
"Apart from swimming the Atlantic Ocean, the refugee resettlement program is the most difficult way to enter the United States," the IRC said. "Refugees go through rigorous security screenings. Multiple intelligence agencies are involved - from the Department of Homeland Security to the Department of Defense to the Department of State - and the screening process itself can take up to 24 months."
The IRC said it has resettled eight Syrians in Texas so far and cited the federal government's commitment to accept "a modest" 10,000 more next year.
The House of Representatives has passed a Republican-sponsored bill to suspend the program for Syrian refugees.
Texas officials claim the state has accepted 10 percent of Syrians admitted to the country so far, more per capita than Florida, California and New York.
"Texas has shouldered its share in supporting refugees from around the world," Traylor wrote.