FederalImmigration & BorderIssuesStatewide NewsFederal Judge Blocks Trump’s Executive Order Allowing States to Opt-Out of Refugee Resettlement Program

Less than a week after Texas became the first state to opt-out of the refugee resettlement program, a Maryland judge issued a nationwide injunction blocking the Trump administration from enforcing the executive order.
January 15, 2020
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Today, a federal judge blocked President Trump from enforcing an executive order that allows state and local jurisdictions to choose whether or not to accept refugees. This comes less than a week after Gov. Abbott announced Texas’ decision to opt-out of the refugee resettlement program this year. 

In a ruling issued by U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte in Maryland, the court issued a preliminary nationwide injunction requested by three refugee resettlement agencies who challenged the executive order last November. 

In the lawsuit, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in Maryland, Church World Service in New York, and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services in Maryland argue the executive order violates federal law by providing veto authority to state and local governments for decisions about refugee resettlements that are to be made by federal agencies.

Notably, both New York and Maryland already consented to accept refugees through the program in 2020. 

Under the terms of the executive order issued by the Trump administration in November, state and local entities must give their written consent before refugees can be resettled in their jurisdictions.

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If state and local entities do not believe they have adequate resources to provide for individuals in their care, they can choose to opt-in or opt-out of the refugee resettlement program by January 21. 

Last Friday, Gov. Abbott penned a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, informing him that Texas would not be accepting refugees in 2020 under the condition of the executive order, making Texas the first state to opt-out of the program.

So far, 42 governors have given their written consent to accept refugees in accordance with the refugee resettlement program. 

If the nationwide injunction holds up, the practical impact could result in Texas–and the handful of remaining states yet to decide on participation in the program–being prevented from opting out due to a decision made by a district court in Maryland.

In the letter, Gov. Abbott attributes his decision to the state’s necessity to devote resources to those already living in Texas and to “disproportionate migration issues resulting from a broken federal immigration system” at the southern border.

In the last decade, Texas settled more refugees than any other state with nearly 57,000 recorded arrivals.

In addition to the issuance of the executive order, the Trump administration also reduced the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S. from 30,000 to 18,000 in Fiscal Year 2020.

Days after the lawsuit was filed on behalf of the three refugee resettlement agencies late last year, nearly 90 mayors across the country, including those from Austin, Brownsville, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, and San Antonio, wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressing their opposition to the executive order and requesting an increase in the number of refugees allowed to resettle. 

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price also penned a letter to Gov. Abbott requesting he give written consent for refugees to be allowed to resettle in Fort Worth and other areas of Texas prior to last week’s decision. 

Regardless of the latest ruling, refugees will still be allowed to come to Texas after first settling in another state as Gov. Abbott outlined in his letter.

“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,” Gov. Abbott says. 

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Sarah McConnell

Sarah McConnell

Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.