AUSTIN, Texas – A federal judge knocked Texas for offering "largely speculative hearsay" about extremists possibly infiltrating Syrian refugees seeking to resettle in the state, rejecting another attempt by Republican leaders to keep out families fleeing the war-torn country.
U.S. District Judge David Godbey's Wednesday ruling cleared the way for the last of 21 Syrian refugees, many of whom are children under the age of 15, to resettle in Houston on Thursday.
The first dozen arrived earlier this week despite Texas mounting the most aggressive campaign of nearly 30 states that have vowed to ban Syrian refugees following the Paris attacks. Texas is the only state that has taken the U.S. government to court in an effort to block resettlements, but Godbey signaled skepticism about the lawsuit filed last week.
"The fact that this Court is required to assess the risk posed by a group of Syrian refugees illustrates one of the problems with this case," Godbey wrote in a three-page order. "The Court has no institutional competency in assessing the risk posed by refugees."
Godbey, who was appointed to the Dallas court by former President George W. Bush, added that such questions are generally left to the discretion of the federal government.
The Obama administration says refugee vetting is rigorous and can take up to two years. The Justice Department first responded to the lawsuit by telling the court that states can't block resettlements, after which Texas abruptly dropped a request to halt the first wave of refugees from coming to Dallas.
But the second try from Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, filed Wednesday, said there was new "evidence" that refugees pose potential danger. He cited public comments this week from Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who said federal counterterrorism officials have indicated that individuals with terrorist ties have attempted infiltrating the U.S. refugee program. McCaul did not go into detail.
Paxton also argued that Texas law enforcement officials have concerns about refugee vetting. Godbey said that although the court recognizes the risks of terrorism, the state had failed to show "competent evidence" that the latest arrivals have intent to cause harm.
Texas "argues that terrorists could have infiltrated the Syrian refugees and could commit acts of terrorism in Texas. The court finds that the evidence before it is largely speculative hearsay," Godbey wrote.
Paxton spokeswoman Cynthia Meyer said the "safety and security of Texans is our utmost priority" and that the office will continue seeking information about arriving refugees.
Despite the ruling, Texas' lawsuit over refugee resettlements is not over. A hearing is likely to come in January, said ACLU attorney Rebecca Robertson, who is representing a resettlement nonprofit that Texas also sued.
Even as governors in some states say Syrian refugees aren't welcome, resettlement agencies and volunteer groups with refugees continue welcoming them. In Indiana, a couple and their two young children arrived at the invitation of the Roman Catholic archdiocese in Indianapolis, which went on with plans to resettle them despite calls from Gov. Mike Pence not to do so.
Pence and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott were among more than two dozen Republican governors who said they would refuse any new Syrian refugees following the deadly Nov. 13 Paris attacks, which have been linked to the Islamic State group operating in Syria.