Texas' rejection of Syrian refugees backed by law

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

The horrific acts perpetuated in Paris last Friday have brought many questions to the forefront. Not the least of these questions is what to do with the thousands of Syrian refugees seeking asylum in our state and country. To gain a full appreciation of the situation, a timeline is helpful.

  • October 2014: The violent civil war in Syria prompted Texas to begin admitting refugees from the country. To date, about 120 refugees have resettled into the Lone Star State.
  • September 2015: President Obama directs his administration to take in 10,000 refugees within the next year.
  • Nov. 13, 2015: A series of attacks by radical Islamic terrorists claim the lives of at least 129 innocent civilians in France.
  • Nov. 15, 2015: French and Greek officials affirm that the fingerprints of one of the suicide bombers matched a person who came to the country with a group of Syrian refugees. Some questions still remain, and the passport used to gain entry to Europe looks to be fake. However, it’s an inescapable conclusion that the suicide bomber posed as a Syrian refugee.
  • Nov. 17, 2015: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott pens a letter stating Texas will no longer accept Syrian refugees for resettlement in the state due to safety concerns.

And this is where the debate picks up. Can a governor — or 27 of them at last count, including Democrats as well as Republicans — refuse to allow refugees into his/her state? According to federal statute and case law, the answer is no. It is the federal government that is in charge of these decisions and where refugees are located. The Refugee Act of 1980 explicitly says so. Also, there is precedent from the U.S. Supreme Court as recently as three years ago affirming the federal government's supremacy over immigration matters.

Abbott is no doubt aware of this precedent. So, his critics ask, why even issue such a letter, knowing it to be futile?

The answer lies in the 1997 Supreme Court case of Printz v. United States and its progeny. In Printz, the Supreme Court held that the federal government could not compel states to carry out its initiatives. The states are free to voluntarily comply, and the federal government may provide a carrot or stick to encourage the states to participate. But the federal government cannot force the hand of the states on these matters.

So, in essence, Abbott’s letter was saying to the federal government, “We know you have the authority over such matters, but Texas will not use any of its time, personnel or resources to aid in the effort.” This stance makes it exponentially harder for the federal government to carry out its mission. And if you add 26 other states to the equation, you can see how difficult it becomes for the Obama administration.

This is the same approach I have pursued in the past in regard to firearm regulation — see House Bill 422 from last session. It is a technique of affirming the pre-eminence of federal law while also protecting the best interests of Texans.

These events show the lack of confidence the American people have in the current presidential administration. If our governor and others thought the administration had an efficient method of screening out potential terrorists from the refugees coming in, there would not be an outcry to deny them entry — after all, Texas has already admitted some Syrian refugees. But, when attacks happen by a group posing as refugees and using stolen or fabricated passports, then a re-evaluation must take place.

It’s not wrong to express concern with a policy of the federal government if that policy could lead to the sort of mass violence that occurred last week in Paris. Once the federal government proves it has a sufficient vetting process, then these states — including Texas — will have a different opinion on the matter.

I appreciate Abbott’s efforts to ensure Texas is doing all it can to protect its citizens from the type of horrendous attacks that occurred in Paris. His letter was simply saying, “Don’t Mess with Texas.”

Matt Krause

State representative, R-Fort Worth