Texas Refugee Ban Hits Wall With Court Blocking Trump Policy

Laurel Brubaker Calkins and Andrew Harris

(Bloomberg) -- A plan by Texas to stop taking in foreign refugees this year was thrown into doubt by a court order that blocks the Trump administration from letting states opt out of refugee resettlement programs.

Texas became the first state to officially stop accepting refugees on Jan. 10, when Republican Governor Greg Abbott announced he wouldn’t grant written consent for the Lone Star state to participate in resettlement programs, exercising a veto power conferred on states in a policy President Donald Trump announced in September.

A federal judge in Maryland on Wednesday temporarily blocked the president’s executive order from taking effect. The ruling was in response to a legal challenge from religious organizations and charities that oversee resettlement programs in the U.S. for tens of thousands of people fleeing war, persecution and natural disasters in their countries.

The White House called the decision “preposterous,” citing it as an example of “nationwide district court injunctions run amok.”

“Another lawless district court has asserted its own preferred immigration policy in place of the laws of the United States -- and, in so doing, robbed millions of American citizens of their voice and their say in a vital issue directly affecting their communities,” the president’s press office said in a statement. “President Trump rightly and justly recognized that your communities are unique, and while some cities have the resources to adequately support refugees and help them be successful, not all communities can sustain the substantial and costly burden.”

Read More: Texas Lawsuit to End DACA on Hold Pending Supreme Court Decision

Texas has taken in roughly 10% of refugees resettled in the U.S. since 2010, according to Abbott. Since 2002, Texas has welcomed an estimated 88,300 refugees, according to the Pew Research Center.

Harris County, the heart of Houston’s metro area, singlehandedly takes in 40 percent of Texas’s annual refugee total, about 3% of all refugees the United Nations resettles across the world, according to U.S. State Department numbers.

Abbott didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the judge’s order.

The governor pegged his decision to the financial and social strain of dealing with both refugees and the flood of undocumented immigrants seeking asylum that have entered Texas in recent years. He said Texas has done more than its share of shouldering the nation’s burden in trying to accommodate refugees.

Abbott said more than 100,000 migrants were apprehended illegally crossing Texas’s border with Mexico in May, although not all of them requested asylum.

Read More: Asylum Seekers Who Got Stuck in Mexico Beat Trump’s Catch-22

“At this time, the state and non-profit organizations have a responsibility to dedicate available resources to those who are already here, including refugees, migrants, and the homeless,” Abbott wrote. “This decision does not deny any refugee access to the United States. Nor does it preclude a refugee from later coming to Texas after initially settling in another state.”

HIAS and other refugee resettlement groups have blasted Abbott for conflating refugees, who go through an extensive vetting program, with asylum seekers, who arrive at the border seeking protection on their own.

“This administration was wrong to attempt a state-by-state refugee ban,” HIAS Chief Executive Officer Mark Hetfield said in a statement jointly issued with the Church World Service and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

Trump’s Sept. 26 order said refugees would be placed only “in those jurisdictions in which both the state and local governments” have agreed to take them. More than 40 states have already given permission to continue accepting refugees, including several states with Republican governors.

U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte blocked the measure on technical legal grounds. Messitte said the groups challenging it are likely to prevail in their suit, filed in November.

Messitte, a 1993 nominee of President Bill Clinton, said current law speaks of consultation between state and local governments and resettlement agencies and that those entities must meet regularly to plan and coordinate. Under Trump’s initiative, states and local governments can simply refuse to consent and “there will be no consultations” or “meetings with the resettlement agencies,” Messitte wrote, and state and local government can withhold consent for any reason or no reason at all.

“Game over,” he wrote.

The Trump administration has limited the number of refugees the U.S. will accept in 2020 to about 18,000, down sharply from the 30,000 refugees resettled in the U.S. in the most recent fiscal year.

The case is HIAS Inc. v. Trump, 19-cv-3346, U.S. District Court, District of Maryland (Greenbelt).

(Updates with White House statement in fourth paragraph)

To contact the reporters on this story: Laurel Calkins in Houstom at lcalkins@bloomberg.net;Andrew Harris in Washington at aharris16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: David Glovin at dglovin@bloomberg.net, Peter Blumberg

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