Texas is taking the gloves off when it comes to the fight over Syrian refugees by suing the federal government. Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office announced the lawsuit yesterday, saying the Obama Administration’s plans go against federal law.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton today announced that he has filed suit on behalf of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) against the federal government to halt the relocation of refugees from Syria in the state, citing the Refugee Act of 1980, which requires that the federal government consult with state authorities in advance of such relocations. The federal government is directing the nonprofit entity tasked with placing the refugees in Texas from disclosing even basic information that would help resolve Texas’s security concerns…
Texas takes in roughly 10 percent of the refugees resettled in the United States, partnering with local volunteer agencies to help refugees transition to the State and pay associated costs. 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.
Paxton may have a point, based on how the Refugee Act of 1980 is written. It just depends on the section of the law. Here’s the part Texas is most likely basing their suit on (emphasis mine).
TITLE III—UNITED STATES COORDINATOR FOR REFUGEE AFFAIRS AND ASSISTANCE FOR EFFECTIVE RESETTLEMENT OF REFUGEES IN THE UNITED STATES
PART A—UNITED STATES COORDINATOR FOR REFUGEE AFFAIRS SEC. 301. (a) The President shall appoint, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, a United States Coordinator for Refugee Affairs (hereinafter in this part referred to as the “Coordinator”). The Coordinator shall have the rank of Ambassador-at-Large.
(c)(1) In the conduct of the Coordinator’s duties, the Coordinator shall consult regularly with States, localities, and private nonprofit voluntary agencies concerning the sponsorship process and the intended distribution of refugees.
It seems like Paxton has an open and shut case, but things are a little more complicated. The question is whether or not the law contradicts itself by allowing the President to adjust how many refugees can come into the country in emergency conditions (emphasis mine).
(b) If the President determines, after appropriate consultation, that (1) an unforeseen emergency refugee situation exists, (2) the admission of certain refugees in response to the emergency refugee situation is justified by grave humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest, and (3) the admission to the United States of these refugees cannot be accomplished under subsection (a), the President may fix a number of refugees to be admitted to the United States during the succeeding period (not to exceed twelve months) in response to the emergency refugee situation and such admissions shall be allocated among refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States in accordance with a determination made by the President after the appropriate consultation provided under this subsection.
The law appears to be in conflict with itself. While it does say the State Department has to consult with individual states, it also allows wiggle room for the executive on certain numbers. It’s honestly going to take a judge to decide which section of the law applies to what the Administration wants to do regarding Syrians. This means a decision may not be made until well into 2016, which may be what Texas wants with the lawsuit. A successful temporary restraining order might force the federal government to completely change course, or decide to resettle refugees in other states. It’s not a bad strategy to take, but it depends on how slowly this moves through the court system and how the judge interprets the law. It will be curious to see how many other states get involved in the suit.
The question is whether it’s worth it. I can honestly see both sides of the issue when it comes to refugees. It makes total sense for people to want to be safe in their homes from potential terrorism. The concerns are understandable, and there’s also the question as to whether it’s the U.S.’ job to even accept refugees. But it also makes sense for organizations like Catholic Charities or International Rescue Committee to want to take care of people who have lost their homes and are escaping violence. It’s important to remember it does take up to two years for refugees to be admitted into the U.S. based on the guidelines set up by the State Department. I’d be curious to find out if people would be more willing to accept refugees if nonprofits were willing to accept more responsibility, and not get taxpayer dollars. This means the groups would have to raise their own money, buy their own lodging, and take risks. It means the groups could face a lawsuit if something goes askew and people get hurt. The same goes for churches or private individuals who want to take in refugees. This doesn’t necessarily mean a private version of “Big Brother,” but it does mean people can’t slack off if they’ve made an agreement. Groups could also get the chance to meet and thoroughly vet the refugees they’re considering taking in, to not only convince donors but also the public. It also means private groups wouldn’t have to accept any refugees if they didn’t trust them. This entire idea could be a moot point if Texas’ lawsuit is even partially successful or if charities decide to move the refugees elsewhere. The question is whether private charities should be afforded the same considerations as private businesses. If the latter can take risks, why can’t the former?