The U.S. Justice Department filed a motion in federal court on Friday against a request by Texas to halt pending resettlement of Syrian refugees there, with federal officials saying the state lacks the authority to act on national immigration policy.
A relief agency that plans to resettle two Syrian families in the coming days filed a separate motion filed at the U.S. District Court in Dallas, contending that Texas cannot discriminate against refugees on the basis of nationality because that violates U.S. civil rights laws.
The results of this case could determine whether the governors of more than 30 states can carry out their declared plans to bar local resettlement of Syrian refugees.
"Decisions as to resettlement of refugees within the United States are committed to the Federal Government as part of its exclusive constitutional and statutory authority over Immigration," the U.S. Justice Department filing said.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission sued the U.S. government and the relief agency to block refugee resettlement in the state.
After the Paris attacks in November, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, was one of the first governors seeking to block the resettlement of Syrians into their states.
Abbott has said he was concerned that U.S. security screening is ineffective and could allow people with ties to terrorism to be admitted.
The Texas health commission has asked the federal court for an immediate restraining order and a hearing by Dec. 9 for an injunction that would prevent resettlement. It has also asked that refugees not be resettled until then.
The International Rescue Committee is set to relocate a family of six Syrians to Dallas on Monday and another family of six Syrians to Houston the same day. The families arrived in the United States this week, according to court papers.
It plans to resettle a family of eight Syrians in Houston on Dec. 10 and a 26-year-old woman whose mother resides in the area.
Texas has threatened a funding cut for the group if it goes ahead with the relocation.
Since fiscal year 2011, 243 Syrian refugees have resettled in Texas, the U.S. filing said, making the state one of the main U.S. relocation sites since the Syrian civil war erupted about four years ago.
"Texas is not discriminating against all refugees, only Syrian refugees," the International Rescue Committee said in its filing.
(Reporting by Julia Edwards; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz and Lisa Maria Garza; Editing by Bernadette Baum and David Gregorio)