Interfaith Clergy Support Texas Resettlement of Syrian Refugees

Amidst an effort by the governor of Texas to bar Syrian refugees from entering the state, Munger, Tolles & Olson lawyers filed an amicus brief on behalf of an interfaith group of clergy who support resettlement.

Signed by 17 clergy members from different religious denominations, the Jan. 11, 2016 amicus brief argued that the state’s efforts may undercut religious freedom, because many of the charities participating in the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program are faith-based organizations that aid lawfully admitted refugees without regard to national origin. The religious leaders urged the court to resolve the matter to avoid incursion into the religious practice of these organizations.

“For many people of faith and faith-based organizations, aiding refugees is a religious practice, not a political statement,” Munger Tolles attorney Amelia L.B. Sargent told Law360. “These groups’ religious freedom would be threatened if the state ordered them not to minister to lawfully admitted Syrian refugees solely on the basis of their national origin.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced in November 2015 that his state would not participate in the resettlement of Syrian refugees. Gov. Abbott was one of 15 governors who took the stance immediately following the attacks in Paris.

Texas filed suit seeking injunctive relief to stop the U.S. government from allowing Syrian refugees to entering the state and to prevent the International Rescue Committee from working with Syrian refugees.

Civil rights organizations − including the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Texas, National Immigration Law Center and Southern Poverty Law Center – filed a legal response on behalf of the International Rescue Committee to prevent Texas from illegally blocking refugees who were already poised to resettle.

“Under the U.S. Constitution, no state can unilaterally bar a group of refugees that has been thoroughly vetted and admitted by the federal government. By irrationally blocking Syrian families, based solely on their nationality, Texas is violating federal law, the U.S. Constitution, and our fundamental American values of welcoming and providing refuge for families fleeing violence and war,” Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and lead counsel for the International Rescue Committee, said.

In addition to Ms. Sargent, the Munger Tolles team for the amicus brief included Joseph D. Lee and C. Hunter Hayes.