Texas is not only refusing to back down from the ridiculously unconstitutional notion that it can deny settlement of Syrian refugees in the state, it's now threatening non-profit refugee organizations with lawsuits if they go ahead with any existing plans to settle Syrian refugees in Texas.
Texas officials are escalating their opposition to Syrian refugees with a new message aimed specifically at resettlement groups that have indicated they will accept people fleeing the war-torn country: change your mind or risk getting sued by the state.
Texas health commissioner Chris Traylor issued the first lawsuit threat over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in a letter to the Dallas branch of the International Rescue Committee, which said earlier this month that it supports accepting Syrian refugees.
"We have been unable to achieve cooperation with your agency," Traylor wrote in the letter, which was released to the Houston Chronicle late Sunday, adding that, "Failure by your organization to cooperate with the State of Texas as required by federal law may result in the termination of your contract with the state and other legal action."
It's ridiculous and unconstitutional to the point of laughability. If states could arbitrarily decide that it can exclude people of a certain ethnic status from living in the state and that they can sue organizations that help people settle there, then who knows where that will end.
Bee Moorhead, executive director of Texas Impact, a faith-based organization that has ties to refugee groups and has expressed concern about Abbott's position, decried the letter in an interview with the Chronicle.
"This letter should raise serious concerns for refugees currently receiving assistance in Texas, and also for legislators - who should be asking what fiscal impact the Texas Health and Human Services Commission could be bringing down on the state through its increasingly contentious communications," Moorhead said. "The health commission interacts collegially and effectively every day with multiple federal agencies, so it's astonishing to see these kinds of communications coming from the agency."
Legal experts largely have agreed that states cannot unilaterally block refugees from a specific country because federal law takes precedence over state law on immigration matters. The experts say the federal government can simply work directly with local resettlement groups to place Syrians with them.
Abbott, a constitutional lawyer and former Texas State Supreme Court justice, has insisted he has the authority, citing a provision in federal law that requires refugee resettlement groups to "cooperate" with state officials.
The letter marks another escalation in a political battle just days after federal officials formally told refugee resettlement groups in Texas and elsewhere that President Barack Obama's administration does not believe that governors can block refugees.
Gov. Abbott it seems won't take no for an answer.