A Texas official has written to a humanitarian aid group, threatening to sue if it continued to help Syrians move to the state.
“We strongly believe that a failure to cooperate with the state on this matter violates federal law and your contract with the state,” wrote Chris Traylor, the head of state’s health and human services commission, in a letter to the Dallas branch of the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris on 13 November, Texas’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, was among the first of more than 30 governors to oppose Syrians fleeing violence moving to their states, on the basis that they could be security threats and that the vetting process was inadequate. Most of the Republican presidential candidates have echoed that view amid an atmosphere of heightened rhetoric.
“The Governor believes that accepting refugees from Syria is incompatible with an absolute commitment to the safety of Texans,” the letter, obtained by the Houston Chronicle, reads, “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.”
Spokespeople from the IRC were not immediately available for comment.
Bryan Black, a spokesperson for the Texas health agency, said on Monday that the IRC was the only group to have received such a letter. According to state figures, 190 Syrian refugees and 23 Syrian asylum seekers arrived in Texas in fiscal year 2015, all to large metropolitan areas. Last month – the first of the new fiscal year – 21 refugees arrived.
Aaron Rippenkroeger, president of Refugee Services of Texas, said the state had not been in touch with his aid group since sending a letter to groups last month telling them to stop resettling Syrians. Rippenkroeger said in a statement that Refugee Services was still examining the legal implications of the order.
The federal government announced in September that it would accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in fiscal year 2016, a more than fivefold increase compared with the previous year. The IRC’s Dallas branch expected to settle about 15 Syrians this year.
More refugees settle in Texas than in any other state. Immigration is a federal matter, and legal experts believe that governors do not have the authority to block the Obama administration from admitting Syrians.
However, states can make life difficult both for refugees and the groups trying to resettle them, for example by withdrawing cooperation, funding and other benefits to create an unwelcoming atmosphere and dissuade aid groups from trying to send Syrians to hostile states.
Traylor’s letter to the IRC indicates that this has already happened: “Many of your fellow organizations expressed a willingness to work with the state to identify alternative outcomes for refugees from Syria who might otherwise relocate to Texas,” he writes.
The letter also cites a requirement under federal law for resettlement groups to work closely with state governments on the placement of refugees – or, as Texas would argue, the non-placement.