FREEDOM OF SPEECH
Texas Seeks to Ban Refugee Aid Groups From Using Pro-Refugee Speech
If the International Rescue Committee does not stop advocating for Syrian refugees, Texas might take legal action.
Texas has a message for refugee aid organizations: Stop providing aid or we’ll sue.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced in November that he would not support the resettlement of Syrian refugees in his state. In a Wednesday letter to aid group International Rescue Committee, Texas health commissioner Chris Traylor took the state’s anti-immigrant rhetoric further.
According to Traylor, the IRC’s vocal support for resettling Syrian refugees in Texas is a violation of federal law.
If the IRC does not change its talking points, Traylor says, the state of Texas might take legal action against them.
“Many of your fellow organizations expressed a willingness to work with the state to identify alternative outcomes for refugees from Syria who might otherwise relocate to Texas,” Traylor wrote the IRC in a letter obtained by the Houston Chronicle. “However, we have been unable to achieve cooperation with your agency.”
Cooperation from refugee aid groups is crucial to Gov. Abbott’s goal of blocking Syrian refugee resettlement in his state. Although Abbott joined 30 other governors in issuing statements against Syrian immigration last month, the federal government says governors lack the authority to block refugee resettlement.
“States may not deny (Office of Refugee Resettlement)-funded benefits and services to refugees based on a refugee’s country of origin or religious affiliation," the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement wrote in a letter to Abbott last month, obtained by the Chronicle.
Abbott’s dubious ability to reject refugees has encouraged groups like the IRC to continue pushing for refugee resettlement in Texas. And while the government might be powerless to block immigration, Traylor believes the state has a legal case against the IRC’s activism.
“[Y]our agency insists on resettling certain refugees from Syria in the near future,” Traylor wrote. “I must ask that you fulfill your statutory duty to conduct your activities ‘in close cooperation and advance consultation’ with the State of Texas pursuant to section 1522 of Title 8 of the United States Code. If you remain unwilling to cooperate with the state on this matter, we strongly believe that a failure to cooperate with the State on this matter violates federal law and your contract with the state.”
Traylor’s legal argument is based in his reference to U.S. Code Title 8, section 1522, which outlines procedures for aiding and resettling refugees.
“Local voluntary agency activities should be conducted in close cooperation and advance consultation with State and local governments,” the law reads.
Another clause in this section appears to contradict this, however, mandating that “assistance and services funded under this section shall be provided to refugees without regard to race, religion, nationality, sex, or political opinion.”
If the IRC does not end its campaign for refugee resettlement in Texas, Traylor says the state might cut funding or take legal action against the group.
“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,” he wrote.
Traylor’s office declined to comment for this article.