The Dallas Morning News
Ruling halts refugee ban
Judge’s temporary block of Trump’s optout order thwarts Abbott
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.”
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.
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.
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.”