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Texas Sues USA to Block 6 Syrian Refugees

DALLAS (CN) - Following through on its threat, Texas sued the United States and the International Rescue Committee on Wednesday, to try to keep Syrian refugees out of Texas.

Texas claims the Refugee Act of 1980 requires the federal government to "consult regularly" with state and local governments and nonprofit agencies on the refugee sponsorship process and refugees' relocation "before their placement" in their new homes.

"Highlighting the role of the states is the fact that section 1522 mentions states 14 times," the lawsuit complaint states. "Instead of adhering to that statutory framework, the federal government and the committee have left Texas uninformed about refugees that could well pose a security risk to Texans and without any say in the process of resettling these refugees."

Texas claims the IRC plans to resettle six Syrian refugees in Dallas on Friday, Dec. 4, and that it did not comply with its Dec. 1 request to stop the resettlement "until we have receive[d] the requested information and our concerns with screening procedures have been appropriately addressed" by federal officials.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission sued the United States, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell, Office of Refugee Resettlement Director Robert Carey and the nonprofit IRC in Federal Court.

The IRC said it "understood" the state's commitment to public safety, but urged Texas "not to conflate terrorists with the Syrian refugees who are seeking sanctuary" here.

"Apart from swimming the Atlantic Ocean, the refugee resettlement program is the most difficult way to enter the United States," the IRC said in a statement on Dec. 1. "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 ."

Texas threatened to sue the IRC in a Nov. 25 letter from DHHS executive commissioner Chris Traylor. It came a week after 31 governors - 30 of them Republican - claimed their states would refuse to accept any more Syrian refugees after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris killed over 130 people.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the federal government is dissuading the IRC "from disclosing even basic information" that would ease the state's fears.

"While Texans are compassionate to our core, and take in more refugees than any other state, significant security concerns have been raised about President Obama's plans to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year, nationwide," Paxton said in a statement Wednesday evening. "The federal government's stated inability to run effective background checks on these refugees, entering the United States from one of the world's most potent hotbeds of terrorism, puts all Texans at risk. Under the law, the federal government has a responsibility to consult with states in advance when relocating refugees, and has not fulfilled that burden here."

Paxton said Texas has taken in roughly 10 percent of the refugees admitted to the United States and partners with local volunteer agencies to help them make the transition and pay associated costs - more than any other state.

"The point of this lawsuit is not about specific refugees, it is about protecting Texans by ensuring that the federal government fulfills its obligation to properly vet the refugees and cooperate and consult with the state," Paxton said. "In this case, authorities have left Texas uninformed about refugees that could well pose a security risk to Texans and gives them no say in the process."

Texas seeks an injunction blocking this Friday's planned resettlement and a declaration that the federal government breached the Refugee Act by failing to consult regularly with it.

Immigration attorneys consider the lawsuit a long shot. One attorney, with decades of experience practicing immigration law in Texas, called it "ridiculous."

Refugees, unlike political asylees, enter the United States legally, and are "documented" even before they arrive. As legal residents of the United States, governors and individual states have no legal power to prohibit them from entering and living where they choose.

The IRC said Thursday morning it "acts within the spirit and letter of the law" and hopes to resolve the matter soon.

"The International Rescue Committee has worked in coordination with Texas officials for 40 years, to the benefit of Texas communities and the refugees we serve," the IRC said in a statement. "Refugees are victims of terror, not terrorists, and the families we help have always been welcomed by the people of Texas."

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