By Joe Jenkins
Late last week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton withdrew his lawsuit against the U.S. government in a move that may signal the end of the state’s resistance to the federal refugee resettlement program.
The lawsuit sat on appeal in the 5th circuit after Dallas-based judge Richard Godbey dismissed the state’s initial filing over the summer. Paxton and other Texas brass joined a group of more than 30 state -level leaders who sought to bar Syrians from being resettled in Texas, in part in reaction to the devastating terror attacks in Paris (none of the attackers were Syrians or refugees, however).
Paxton’s withdrawal comes just after another federal court shut down a similar anti-refugee policy in Indiana. That decision, handed down by 7th Circuit judge Richard Posner, issued a harsh reprimand of Indiana Governor Mike Pence, calling his attempt to block Syrian refugee resettlement due to alleged security concerns mere “nightmare speculation.”
Undoubtedly fearful of a similar rebuke, Texas officials retreated from their quest to bar Syrians from resettling there, yet held fast to Governor Gregg Abbott’s plan to remove the state from the federal refugee program entirely. Though the Texas government will no longer play a role in the program, refugees, including Syrians, will continue to be resettled in the state by private organizations.
Since 2011, Texas has become home to over 1000 Syrian refugees, and none have lived up to any “nightmare speculation.” In fact, no Syrian refugee has ever been accused of plotting terrorism in the United States. Rather, the new Texans have largely been model citizens.
This information seems unconvincing to Texas lawmakers, who still have reservations about the refugee security screening process despite the analysis of our top national security experts and military leadership. That process, which includes a dizzying series of personal interviews, rigorous background checks, and biometric data screening, takes place before refugees step foot on American soil, making refugees the most vetted individuals to ever enter the country.
Breaking with their top leaders, many Texans have instead chosen to welcome refugees with their famous southern hospitality. Joining them last week was former ambassador to Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan Ryan Crocker and dean of the George W. Bush School of Government at Texas A&M.
“A sad result of this heated and confusing campaign season is that Syrian refugees have become mingled in people’s minds with their oppressors,” Crocker told the Houston Chronicle. “Syrians, along with Iraqis, are the primary victims of ISIS. As a former ambassador to Syria, I know the country well . . . Syrians are precisely the kind of people I’d want living in my community and attending my child’s schools.”
For Crocker and countless other Texans, the importance of welcoming refugees is clear. Now, it’s up to the state’s leadership to heed the advice of national experts and the compassionate calls of its own citizens and make Texas a leader, rather than a barrier, in solving the world’s refugee crisis.