The way refugees are resettled in Texas could be in for a big shakeup.
Yesterday, state officials threatened to withdraw from the federal refugee resettlement program if the feds don’t approve the state’s plan, which has some controversial elements — including a cap on the number of refugees the state takes in and a stricter screening process for refugees.
The state’s ultimatum complicates ongoing negotiations between Texas and the U.S. government. If things don’t get worked out in the next several days, Texas will no longer work with the federal government to help resettle refugees here.
Chris Kelley with the non-profit Refugee Services of Texas says that does not mean the state will stop taking-in refugees. He says it means state workers won’t have the same role they’ve had for the past 40 years.
“The biggest disappointment is that we have this incredible infrastructure of health, human services and education state employees who have devoted their careers to working with refugees,” Kelley explains. “All of that is likely to be dismantled. Dozens of state employees will lose their jobs, if Texas withdraws from the program.”
If Texas no longer works in partnership with federal officials on this, non-profits like Kelley’s will have to fill that role.
Roughly a dozen other states have a similar set up. They are called Wilson/Fish programs. So, practically speaking, Kelley says not a lot will change.
“It just sends the wrong signal to the rest of the nation and the world,” he says. “It is not the Texas spirit to quit a program that is truly one of the best in the nation.”
Last year, almost 7,000 refugees from across the globe were resettled here — more than any other state.
But Gov. Greg Abbott says the federal program is riddled with serious problems. Following terrorist attacks in Europe, Texas has unsuccessfully tried to stop the intake of Syrian refugees, specifically.
A spokesperson for the federal agency in charge of the national resettlement program says services for refugees are provided only after “an individual successfully completes stringent security screenings.”
Kelley says because the state has taken a tough stance on this, faith-based organizations and nonprofits will have to step up and take over the state’s work, if the state decides to withdraw from the program.
“We'll move forward in just the continued great fashion that we have,” Kelley says. “We have had just enormous success with helping refugees feel safe, recover their lives and thrive.”
Caritas of Austin says they are also disappointed by the state’s actions, but they say they, too, will continue resettling and serving refugees.
The deadline for negotiations between the state and the federal government is only about a week away.
If they decide to sever ties, the federal agency will seek out and appoint a “replacement designee” to administer assistance and services for refugees here.