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Texas Warns of Suit for Aiding Syrian Refugees

DALLAS (CN) - Texas has threatened to kill funding and sue social services organizations if they defy Gov. Greg Abbott's refusal to accept Syrian refugees -- an order Abbott issued without the legal power to do so.

Chris Traylor, executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, issued the threat in a Nov. 25 letter to the International Rescue Committee in Dallas.

The threat came a week after 31 governors - 30 of them Republican - claimed their states would refuse to accept any more Syrian refugees, though states, and governors, have no legal authority to exclude legally admitted refugees.

Citing the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris that killed more than 130 people, Abbott said, "Security comes first."

"Texas will not accept any Syrian refugees & I demand the U.S. act similarly," Abbott tweeted on Nov. 16.

In his letter to the International Rescue Committee, Traylor wrote: "Failure by your organization to cooperate with the State of Texas as required by federal law may result in the termination of your contract with the state and other legal action."

He said the International Rescue Committee had not been cooperating with Texas.

"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," the letter states. "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."

Traylor gave the group until Monday, Nov. 30, to respond.

"Rather than continue on your current path, in violation of the governor's directive, please contact my office no later than Monday, November 30, so that we can, indeed, work together 'in close cooperation' as required by federal law," the letter states.

Traylor claimed that Texas has settled 10 percent of the Syrians in the country, that 28 refugees per every 100,000 Texans were accepted last year, more per capita than in Florida, California and New York.

"Texas has shouldered its share in supporting refugees from around the world," Traylor wrote.

He said Abbott banned Syrian refugees because President Barack Obama has shown "no willingness to improve the security screenings" of refugees in spite of "the abundant evidence that the screens are ineffective."

International Rescue Committee Executive Director Donna Duvin said her group has responded to Texas, and hopes to work with it, but that it is "still anticipating a need to work" with the federal government to resettle families.

"If that needs to be done without state support, then we would be looking for resources outside of state support to make that possible," she told The Dallas Morning News.

Unlike political asylees, who generally enter the United States without permission and then apply for legal status, refugees enter the country legally after applying for refugee status at a U.S. Embassy or consulate in a foreign country. The State Department's vetting process can take up to two years.

Once a refugee is admitted to the United States, he or she is legally present here. States and governors have no more power to bar them from entering than they could bar entry to a U.S. citizen.

Follow @davejourno
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