The Dallas Morning News

Ruling halts refugee ban

Judge’s temporary block of Trump’s optout order thwarts Abbott

- By DIANNE SOLIS Staff Writer dsolis@dallasnews.com

A federal judge has temporaril­y halted President Donald Trump’s executive order allowing state and local government­s the right to opt out of refugee resettleme­nt. The injunction puts on hold Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to bar further admissions of refugees in Texas.

U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte of Maryland wrote in a Wednesday order that Trump’s decision to allow lower government­s the right to block refugees was arbitrary and “flies in the face of clear Congressio­nal intent.”

The dramatic legal pivot is the latest in an ongoing battle to tighten refugee admissions into the U.S. by Trump as he solidifies immigratio­n restrictio­ns as a signature reelection issue.

On Friday, Texas became the first state to issue a rejection of refugees under the executive order by Trump. Fortytwo oth

er governors, including Republican­s, have approved of continued federal refugee resettleme­nt in their states.

Abbott, who is traveling to Israel, had no immediate comment on the federal ruling.

For years, Texas has frequently led the nation in refugee resettleme­nt. North Texas has been a top destinatio­n for refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Myanmar, Bhutan and other countries.

At the ACLU of Texas, legal director Andre Segura said, “Congress did not intend for local officials to dictate our national responsibi­lity to welcome refugees. If not stopped, this would allow officials, like Governor Abbott, to simply play politics with the lives of those seeking safety in our country.”

Welcome ruling

At the Dallas offices of the Internatio­nal Rescue Committee, executive director Suzy Cop welcomed the ruling. “This is great and a good step in the right direction, and let’s just breathe now.”

IRC is one of nine organizati­ons with a State Department contract to assist in the resettleme­nt of refugees. It expects to resettle about 400 refugees this year, but in years past has resettled about 1,000 annually. Last fiscal year, about 2,500 were resettled in Texas.

The Trump administra­tion has steadily eroded the number of refugees legally allowed to take shelter in the U.S. For 2020, Trump slashed the annual cap of admissions to 18,000, from 30,000 people the previous year, even as the number of refugees fleeing their homes because of disasters, famine, war and other violence has reached record levels worldwide.

President Barack Obama set the cap at 110,000 refugees in fall 2016.

Constituti­onal concern

In his ruling for a temporary injunction, the judge said the plaintiffs, all refugee resettleme­nt agencies, had demonstrat­ed the “existence of a serious constituti­onal concern” that the Trump order was likely unlawful.

“I’m glad the court stopped this politicall­y motivated attack on refugees and important values that underpin who we are as a country,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, a Democrat, said Wednesday. “I’ve gotten to know some of these families. Many of them assisted our government in the war on terror. They make our community and country stronger.”

While announcing his decision Friday to reject refugees, Abbott said, “In addition to accepting refugees all these years, Texas has been left by Congress to deal with disproport­ionate migration issues resulting from a broken federal immigratio­n system. … Texas has carried more than its share in assisting the refugee resettleme­nt process.”

At Refugee Services of Texas, another resettleme­nt agency in North Texas, senior regional director Becky Storey called on Abbott to “do the right thing and reverse course in his decision that would make Texas the only state to abandon the federal refugee program.” Refugee Services of Texas is an affiliate of Lutheran Immigratio­n and Refugee Service, one of the plaintiffs in the Maryland suit.

The state’s 16 Roman Catholic bishops spoke out last week against the decision by Abbott, who is Catholic. In a written statement Wednesday, Jennifer Carr Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, said they welcomed the preliminar­y injunction.

“Catholics throughout the Lone Star State will continue to work with all people of goodwill in welcoming the stranger, living our faith and our belief that our state is a better place when we work side by side with all who seek to better their lives and our world,” Carr Allmon said.

Mixed reaction

Among Republican­s, the reaction was mixed and measured. On Wednesday, Sen. John Cornyn said he’d like to understand the governor’s “thought process” in making his decision to opt out.

Noting that decision wasn’t his to make, Cornyn said, “I can understand … why the governor feels like Texas — the Texas taxpayers — have borne the brunt” of refugee resettleme­nt … “because the impact on education costs, on healthcare, on law enforcemen­t has been pretty dramatic, and unfortunat­ely, the federal government has failed to provide the support that is needed on a bipartisan basis to deal with this internatio­nal crisis.”

Cornyn added, “I think legal immigratio­n is a good thing.”

But former state legislator Don Huffines, a Republican from Dallas, said he supported the governor’s decision and said he was disappoint­ed with the federal ruling.

“It is time to take a break and digest the refugees that are already here and support them,” Huffines said. “The Trump administra­tion had a really good idea that they get buyin from the local and state community. ... There are plenty of places that refugees can go to other than Texas.”

 ?? 2017 File Photo/staff ?? Sami Abdalla waited for his grandmothe­r from Sudan while she was being detained. North Texas has been a top destinatio­n for years for refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Myanmar, Bhutan and other countries.
2017 File Photo/staff Sami Abdalla waited for his grandmothe­r from Sudan while she was being detained. North Texas has been a top destinatio­n for years for refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Myanmar, Bhutan and other countries.

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