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After Legal Fight, 21 Syrian Refugees to Arrive in Texas

Some Syrian refugees arrived in Texas Monday after the state eased up in its legal fight against resettlement agencies and the federal government.

The refugees, including six children, were expected to join relatives already settled in Dallas and Houston. NBC 5 has learned one family flew Monday to Austin, and then a relative drove them to North Texas.

Another nine refugees are scheduled to arrive in Houston Thursday.

The International Rescue Committee, which is resettling six people with relatives already living with Dallas, would not confirm Monday night that the family had arrived. Those six were re-routed to New York last week, but they were expected to proceed to Dallas after the state of Texas backed down in court from trying to immediately stop them.

Refugee settlement agencies would not confirm the refugees slated for Houston had arrived either.

The state of Texas backs off its legal fight against resettlement agencies and the federal government, allowing 21 Syrian refugees to arrive Monday/

State officials fought for weeks to stop them, saying Syrian refugees posed an unacceptable security risk after the deadly Nov. 13 Paris attacks.

But two days after suing one resettlement agency, the International Rescue Committee, and federal officials, the state on Friday withdrew its request for an order immediately stopping the refugees from entering Texas. The lawsuit remains pending, and a judge could hear arguments in the case this week.

Anna Nunez, communications coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, released the following statement on the legal brief from Rebecca L. Robertson, Policy and Legal Director for the ACLU of Texas to NBC 5 on Monday afternoon:

“The court held an informal status conference by telephone with parties today [Monday], and there will be no hearing on Texas’s motion for preliminary injunction this week. Instead, the parties will submit briefing over the course of the next few weeks, after the which the judge will take up the request for a preliminary injunction.”

Texas took in nearly 250 Syrians before the Paris attacks. Federal officials said in court filings that they plan to resettle as many as 250 Syrians in Texas during the current fiscal year.

Governors in about 30 states since the attacks have said they don't want to accept any more refugees, though none have fought as hard as Texas. Advocates say connecting refugees to fears of terrorism is misguided, and federal officials say states don't have the power to refuse them.

The refugees expected in Texas include a family of six related to people already settled in the Dallas area. The family arrived in New York on Thursday night and stayed there through the weekend after originally being expected to go directly to Texas.

The family is expected to take an apartment in the same complex as several other Syrians. The lower-income complex in northeast Dallas is home to recent arrivals from around the world. Volunteers have collected furniture, hygiene products and other items for the apartment -- including a bicycle each for the two children in the family.

Meanwhile, eight Syrians who turned themselves over to immigration authorities at the U.S.-Mexico border have passed their first hurdle to seeking asylum but remain detained in Texas.

Jonathan Ryan who is representing the two families-- two men, two women and four children-- says the Syrians have passed their credible fear interviews and have undergone background checks that show they don't pose a danger. However, he says the families have not been released because of "law enforcement interest."

The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately return a message Monday seeking more details on the immigrants, who turned themselves in last month in Laredo.

Ryan, director of San Antonio-based RAICES, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, said that the Syrian families should be released on parole and that it's unusual for them to be detained after passing their credible fear interview. The Syrians are Christians who are fleeing the civil war in their home country, he said.

"Their main goal is to save their own lives," he said. "If they can be freed, I know that is a Christmas wish come true."

These asylum seekers are not counted among the 85,000 refugees announced earlier this year by the Obama administration, which includes about 10,000 Syrians. For Syrians with means, a lengthy trek to the U.S. border could provide another path to asylum.

Here is a timeline of events in Texas' battle with the U.S. government over refugee resettlement:

— Nov. 16: Gov. Greg Abbott announces on Twitter that "Texas will not accept any Syrian refugees & I demand the U.S. act similarly." The same day, the governor reiterates that in a letter to President Obama, citing security concerns following the Paris attacks three days earlier.

— Nov. 17: Abbott asks the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas Department of Public Safety to implement his directive to stop accepting Syrian refugees and to notify nonprofit refugee aid agencies, such as the International Rescue Committee.

— Nov. 19: The Texas Health and Human Services Commission, in a letter to IRC, demands information about the group's resettlement plans, instructs it to immediately discontinue any resettlement in Texas and informs it that the agency "will refuse to cooperate with the resettlement of any Syrian refugees in Texas."

— Nov. 25: The Texas health agency again writes IRC, claiming it has "been unable to achieve cooperation with your agency" because "your agency insists on resettling certain refugees from Syria in the near future."

— Nov. 30: IRC responds it is "committed to working in close cooperation with the highest levels of Texas State leadership" and notes it has worked in Texas for over 40 years "in a constructive partnership with state, local officials, and communities."

— Dec.1: Texas sends a letter to IRC, demanding it "halt resettlement of any Syrians seeking refugee status in Texas," and confirm by the next day that it will comply.

— Dec. 2: Texas Health and Human Services Commission seeks an injunction in federal court to stop IRC from settling six Syrians in the Dallas area, as scheduled for later in the week.

— Dec. 3-4: Twelve Syrian refugees arrive in New York; six who are destined for Dallas and six for Houston.

— Dec. 4: The federal government and the IRC respond in court to the Texas lawsuit, saying the state has no legal authority to block the resettlement of government-approved refugees. A Dallas IRC official said the group shared with Texas officials on Nov. 12 a spreadsheet noting that 200 to 250 Syrian resettlements were proposed for Texas for this fiscal year, disputing the state's claims it had not been consulted. The Texas attorney general later withdraws the state's request for a temporary restraining order.

— Dec. 7: Twelve Syrians join relatives in Dallas and Houston.

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