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Abbott amps up campaign to keep Syrian refugees from coming to Texas

Gov. Greg Abbott Tuesday directed state agencies to use their “full authority” to keep Syrian refugees from resettling in Texas and took the national stage to call President Barack Obama out on the issue.

“This is a situation where all of America is saying, `Mr. President, you have this wrong, you have an obligation to keep Americans safe,’” Abbott told Fox News commentator Gretchen Carlson on her show, “The Real Story.”

It was the first of a number of national TV appearances the governor is expected to make this week as he is becoming the face of about 30 governors who are resisting the placement of Syrian refugees in their states.

On Monday, Abbott wrote Obama that Texas wouldn’t be accepting Syrian refugees in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks. On Tuesday, he instructed the state’s Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas Department of Public Safety to “use your full authority to comply with this direction.”

According to a copy of the letter obtained by the American-Statesman, Abbott directed both agencies to inform local resettlement agencies about the new policy. He asked the health agency to submit an amended Texas refugee resettlement plan to federal authorities. He also named the health agency’s chief of staff, Cecile Young, to fill the vacant post of state refugee coordinator.

Abbott also directed the DPS to “work with state and local officials to ensure any refugees already in this state do not pose a risk to public safety.”

About 210 Syrian refugees have settled in Texas in the last 15 months.

State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, Tuesday requested an opinion from state Attorney General Ken Paxton on whether its legal for Texas to conduct its own security verifications on refugees before allocating federal resettlement funding.

While it is not clear what governors can do to stop resettlement in their states, Abbott appeared ready and willing to draw a line in the sand and test the limits of his power.

“More than half of the governors of the United States of America are putting the priority on the safety of our fellow citizens as opposed to the president’s priority, which is to relocate refugees from Syria,” Abbott said on Fox News. “We are not going to tolerate, we are not going to accept any more refugees from this dangerous zone of Syria into the state of Texas or into these other states until the United States of America can ensure their safety and security.”

And, Abbott said, based on the lack of hard data to adequately vet refugees, “it is impossible for them to meet our standard.”

The Obama administration defended the vetting process as exacting and has pushed back against the governors’ resistance, portraying their reaction as panicky, political and unpatriotic.

“The refugees that have captivated so much attention in the wake of Friday’s attack are fleeing precisely the type of senseless slaughter that occurred in Paris. To slam the door in their faces — to decide not to help when we know that we can help — would be a betrayal of our values. It would be un-American,” said Amy Pope, deputy homeland security adviser and deputy assistant to the president at the National Security Council, in a posting Tuesday.

Denise Gilman, director of the immigration clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, said that if a state refuses to pass on federal dollars to local resettlement agencies, the federal government could provide the money directly to those agencies.

She said any effort to deny refugees resettlement in Texas because of their national origin would clearly be discriminatory and invite a lawsuit.

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