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Texas Threatens to Withdraw From Refugee Resettlement Program

Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune
Demonstrators protest the state's actions toward blocking Syrian refugees from resettling in Texas.

The state of Texas is threatening to withdraw from the federal refugee resettlement program, if the feds don't accept the state's proposal for continuing the program in the next fiscal year. 

Kara Crawford, Texas' State Refugee Coordinator, sent a letter today to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) saying the agency had not yet approved Texas' application for changes to the state's resettlement program.

"If our application is rejected – whether explicitly or by silence – the Health and Human Services Commission will be unable to certify that its State Plan is current and in effect, and will exit the Refugee Resettlement Program," Crawford wrote in today's letter to ORR.

That application includes capping the number of refugees the state will accept at current levels, at a time when the federal government is promising to expand the number of refugees the U.S. will accept from Syria, where a years-long civil war has displaced millions of people. It also demands that the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation "take all necessary actions to ensure that each potential refugee receives a background investigation and ensure that the potential refugee is not a security threat before U.S. refugee admission." 

This comes after Texas Governor Greg Abbott and governors from more than a dozen other states said they would not accept Syrian refugees, in the wake of last year's terror attacks in Paris.

The state has tried unsuccessfully to block Syrian refugees from being resettled through the courts. In a written statement today, Gov. Abbott cited security concerns as reasoning for the state's denial of refugees.  

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.

The state gave ORR a deadline of Sept. 30 to approve the Texas' application. If it is not approved, the state says it will withdraw from the resettlement program on January 31, 2017.

In a statement, the Administration for Children and Families says the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) “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’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."

As the Texas Tribune reports:

If Texas withdraws from the federal refugee resettlement program, it doesn't mean refugees would stop flowing to the state; the federal government could distribute money directly to nonprofit groups here. Resettlement officials have said the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980 allows the federal government to designate an entity other than a state government to serve as the state refugee coordinator and disburse funding — a set-up currently in place in six states. 

You can view Crawford's full letter to ORR Director Robert Careybelow.

Matt Largey is the Projects Editor at KUT. That means doing a little bit of everything: editing reporters, producing podcasts, reporting, training, producing live events and always being on the lookout for things that make his ears perk up. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mattlargey.
Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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