COLUMN: Paxton amends approach to resettlement of refugees

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AUSTIN — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Dec. 4 withdrew his request for a temporary restraining order to put a hold on the federal government’s plan to relocate Syrian refugee families in Texas.

Paxton, as the state’s chief law enforcement officer, initiated the court action on behalf of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the state agency potentially most involved with the resettlement process. In an explanation of his reasoning, Paxton cited the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980, a law requiring that the federal government consult with state authorities in advance of such relocations.

Paxton said, in effect, that his request for the restraining order prompted the federal government to provide information that he said would help resolve security concerns about the first group of refugees set to arrive in Texas.

Still, however, Texas continues to seek a federal court injunction requiring the federal government to consult with state authorities before resettling refugees.

According to the state attorney general’s office, Texas takes in roughly 10 percent of the refugees resettled in the United States, partnering with local volunteer agencies to help refugees transition to the state and pay associated costs.

"Texas shouldn’t have to go to court to require Washington to comply with federal law regarding its duties to consult with Texas in advance,” Paxton commented. "Our state will continue legal proceedings to ensure we get the information necessary to adequately protect the safety of Texas residents. While we remain concerned about the federal government's overall refugee vetting process, we must ensure that Texas has the seat at the table that the Refugee Act requires.”

Border security panel meets

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick acknowledged "strong pleas for state assistance” after a Dec. 3 Senate interim committee hearing on border security.

Patrick said he is "committed to work with the Senate, both during this interim and the remainder of my term in office, to make sure that assistance is provided.”

During the hearing, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw testified that over the last four years more than 174,000 undocumented individuals had been arrested and booked into Texas jails.

A.J. Louderback of Texas Sheriffs’ Association also testified, saying PEP — the Priority Enforcement Program of ICE, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, "significantly weakens how we protect the state.”

Under PEP, ICE seeks the transfer of a removable individual when that individual has been convicted of an offense listed under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s civil immigration enforcement priorities, has intentionally participated in an organized criminal gang to further the illegal activity of the gang, or poses a danger to national security.

Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, said, “While securing the border is a responsibility of Washington, D.C., it is still a Texas problem. That’s why the Senate led the way during the last session to provide funding for border security at the highest levels in history.”

Abbott takes group to Cuba

Gov. Greg Abbott and first lady Cecilia Abbott are back in Texas after leading a group of two dozen members of the governor’s staff and economic development team and representatives of economic interests "with a stake in increased trade with and travel” to Cuba. The group included officials from the ports of Houston, Beaumont and Corpus Christi, plus Houston’s airports.

News of the Nov. 30-Dec. 3 trip was posted by the governor’s office in a series of press pool reports by the Austin American-Statesman.

In one of those reports, Cuba’s minister of foreign trade and investment told Gov. Abbott that he believes "the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States is an inexorable process that won’t be reversed no matter who is elected president in 2016."

"This is an historic process,” said Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz. "It's historic because it’s been a long time and a lot of administrations and there weren’t any changes, and now is when the changes are taking place. We think this process is irreversible, it’s not going to be taken back.”