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Texas’ Fight Against Refugees Called ‘Hearsay’

DALLAS (CN) - Texas officials' alleged fears of terrorists infiltrating U.S. refugee programs are unfounded and "largely speculative hearsay," a federal judge ruled Wednesday, in refusing to issue a restraining order against the United States.

Texas sued the United States and the International Rescue Committee last week in Federal Court. The nonprofit IRC is helping roughly 20 Syrian refugees resettle in Dallas and Houston this week.

Texas claims federal officials failed to "consult regularly" with it on refugees "before their placement" in Texas. It claims that violates the 1980 Refugee Act.

Texas dropped its demand to ban Syrian refugees on Friday, saying federal officials had given it the information it wanted.

But on Wednesday Texas tried again to bar Syrian refugees from the state. It filed a second application for temporary restraining order, claiming that "terrorists could have infiltrated the Syrian refugees and could commit acts of terrorism" in the state.

U.S. District Judge David C. Godbey quickly rejected the application, issuing an opinion within hours that dismisses the state's evidence as "largely speculative hearsay."

"The [Texas Health and Human Services] Commission has 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 3-page order states. "The court does not downplay the risks that terrorism, as a general matter, may pose. It must, however, assess the risk, if posed by these particular refugees."

Godbey said that asking the court to assess the risk posed by a group of Syrian refugees "illustrates one of the problems with this case," and that the court "has no institutional competency to assess" that risk.

"That is precisely the sort of question that is, as a general matter, committed to the discretion of the executive branch of the federal government, not to a district court," Godbey wrote.

Lost in the heated rhetoric, which led 31 governors in November to try to bar Syrian refugees from their states, is that states have no power to do this. Refugees are granted legal status before they enter the country. Thus they are legally "documented," legally resident, from the moment they set foot on U.S. soil. States have no power to bar a legal U.S. resident from crossing state lines.

The IRC, represented by the ACLU, the National Immigration Law Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center, filed documents last Friday that say Texas "has made no showing that these refugees pose any threat" to Texans that would give it "unwarranted veto power" over federal decisions.

ACLU of Texas executive director Terri Burke said attempts to block Syrian refugees "run counter to our laws, our values and our conscience."

"Refugee resettlement is a federal matter over which state governments have no veto authority, and the refugees who need our help are families, widows and children fleeing unspeakable terror wrought by our own enemies," she said in a statement last week. "Texans are better than this."

NILC executive director Marielena Hincapie called Texas' lawsuit to stop providing "vital services" to refugees "reprehensible."

Gov. Greg Abbott supports the state's lawsuit.

"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, it is essential that a judge consider halting the Syrian refugee process - at least on a temporary basis - to ensure refugees coming to the United States will be vetted in a way that does not compromise the safety of Americans and Texans," Abbott said in a statement Wednesday.

Follow @davejourno
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