AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A Texas state agency sued the U.S. State Department, a relief agency and others in federal court on Wednesday, seeking to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the state just ahead of a plan to bring a new group of Syrians within a week.
The International Rescue Committee is set to relocate two Syrian refugee families to Texas in the coming days despite a threat from state officials that such a move would be reckless and met with a cut in funding for the agency.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission sued, asking the U.S. District Court in Dallas for an immediate restraining order and a hearing by Dec. 9 for an injunction that would prevent resettlement. It is also asking that refugees not be resettled until then.
The suit names U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the U.S. State Department and others as defendants. Texas is seeking an injunction to halt the resettlement because the state contends the defendants are violating their “statutory duty” to consult with the State in advance of placing refugees in Texas.
The International Rescue Committee was not immediately available for comment.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said: “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.”
After the Paris attacks in November, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, was one of the first of more than 30 U.S. governors seeking to block the resettlement of Syrians into their states.
Abbott has said he was concerned that U.S. security screening is ineffective and could allow people with ties to terrorism to be admitted.
Multiple federal government security agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation participate in the screening process of refugees, which can take 18-24 months, according to the State Department.
Refugee advocates have said the governors have no legal power to exclude entry based on a person’s nationality to anyone in the United States legally.
They have also argued that the governors, mostly Republicans, are targeting those who are overwhelmingly victims rather than perpetrators of violence in Syria.
Texas has housed 180 Syrian refugees since Syria’s civil war began in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin and Lisa Maria Garza in Dallas; Editing by Chris Reese and David Gregorio