AUSTIN - Refugees from Syria will continue to be resettled in Texas, whether it withdraws from the federal Refugee Resettlement Program or not.
State Refugee Coordinator Kara Crawford sent a letter Wednesday notifying the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement of the state's intent to end participation, unless federal administrators approve a new state action plan with explicit security assurances by Sept. 30.
Between October 2015 and August 2016, the Refugee Processing Center reports more than 6,700 refugees have been resettled in Texas, including 796 Syrians fleeing civil war in their home country. Most are women and children.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has fought to block Syrian refugees ever since the deadly 2015 terror attacks in Paris. Addressing media in the immediate aftermath, Abbott said at the time, "It is imperative that Texas do everything we can to ensure that we don't have a Syrian refugee sneak into the state of Texas who can pose a similar terroristic danger."
"The federal government’s refugee settlement program is riddled with serious problems that pose a threat to our nation," Abbott wrote in a statement Wednesday. "The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Director of National Intelligence have repeatedly declared their inability to fully screen refugees from terrorist-based nations. Even with the inability to properly vet refugees from Syria and countries known to be supporters or propagators of terrorism, President Obama is now ineptly proposing a dramatic increase in the number of refugees to be resettled in the U.S."
"Empathy must be balanced with security. Texas has done more than its fair share in aiding refugees, accepting more refugees than any other state between October 2015 and March 2016. While many refugees pose no danger, some pose grave danger, like the Iraqi refugee with ties to ISIS who was arrested earlier this year after he plotted to set off bombs at two malls in Houston.
"Despite multiple requests by the State of Texas, the federal government lacks the capability or the will to distinguish the dangerous from the harmless, and Texas will not be an accomplice to such dereliction of duty to the American people. Therefore, Texas will withdraw from the refugee resettlement program. I strongly urge the federal government to completely overhaul a broken and flawed refugee program that increasingly risks American lives," Abbott concluded.
The state has already lost a legal challenge to block private nonprofits from helping refugees. A federal judge ruled Texas, which acts as a middle man for federal refugee assistance funds, does not have the authority to dictate the behavior of refugee aid organizations.
Before becoming lawful U.S. residents, refugees are subjected to the most rigorous screenings of any new arrivals. The U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security detailed the process in a 2015 letter to Abbott's office. The procedure includes interviews, involves multiple law enforcement agencies and can take up to two years.
A spokesperson with the Administration for Children and Families replied Wednesday the Office of Refugee Resettlement "values the support and partnership of the states including Texas and our network of public-private partners to welcome and integrate newcomers into the fabric of our nation."
"ORR and its federal partners across the administration are working with states to ensure that all refugees and entrants have access to the critical supports needed to help them rebuild their lives in the United States while continuing to protect the safety and security of communities," the statement continued.
"ORR’s services are provided only after an individual successfully completes stringent security screenings, is granted refugee status by DHS, and is brought to the U.S. for resettlement by the State Department. This model for refugee resettlement will continue in Texas."
Many states do not participate in the Refugee Resettlement Program, and the law allows the federal government to contract with separate administrators in those states. The federal government is expected to appoint a replacement administrator in Texas, which will deal with refugee service organizations directly.
Aaron Rippenkroeger, CEO of Refugee Services of Texas, said he was "deeply disappointed" in Abbott's ultimatum.
"We agree with Pope Francis who said last week that authentic hospitality is 'our greatest security against hateful acts of terrorism,'" Rippenkroeger wrote in a statement. "Ending the state’s support for the refugee assistance program is a departure from historic Texas values, from our shared principles of human decency and constitutes, for many of our volunteers and others, a rejection of the religious belief to serve the needy and vulnerable, including refugees."
(© 2016 KVUE)