Texas threatens to leave U.S. refugee program

Texas threatened Wednesday to withdraw from the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program unless the Obama administration approved, without changes, a state proposal requiring national security officials to certify that incoming refugees pose no threat of engaging in terrorism.

The ultimatum was made because Texas officials don’t trust the federal government’s system of background checks for refugees “from terrorist-based nations,” Gov. Greg Abbott said.

“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,” Abbott said.

“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.,” the governor said.

Resettlement groups said the threatened withdrawal wouldn’t stop the flow of refugees into Texas, adding that a nonprofit would be designated to assume the state’s role in coordinating refugee programs and distributing federal aid.

“Withdrawing from the resettlement program does not make Texans safer or accomplish any public policy goals,” said Linda Hartke, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. “Despite Gov. Abbott’s concerns, we know that refugees entering the U.S. pass through the most rigorous and comprehensive security screenings of any persons admitted to the U.S.”

Donna Duvin, executive director of the International Rescue Committee of Dallas, said the threat to withdraw from the federal program is “completely out of touch with Texas values.”

“The IRC has resettled refugee families in the state for decades and has consistently seen communities overwhelmingly embrace refugees in their schools, jobs and places of worship,” she said. “While the governor scapegoats innocent families, Texans continue to open their arms to welcome refugees in need.”

The Texas ultimatum followed a series of setbacks in meeting Abbott’s vow, delivered shortly after terrorist attacks in Paris left 130 dead 10 months ago, to keep Syrian refugees out of the state.

Twice in the past year, a federal judge refused state attempts to block the arrival of Syrian refugees, saying fears of terrorism were based largely on speculative hearsay and that Texas failed to provide sufficient evidence showing that terrorists had infiltrated the refugee program.

One day after the U.S. judge dismissed the state’s lawsuit in mid-June, Texas announced that it had submitted a new state refugee plan for federal approval.

The plan, for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, said Texas will accept only those refugees that the FBI, Homeland Security Department and director of national intelligence can certify don’t pose a security threat to the state.

In a letter sent Wednesday, Texas refugee coordinator Kara Crawford told the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that unless the state’s plan is approved without changes by Sept. 30, “we will interpret your silence as a rejection of the application.”

If rejected, Texas will exit the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program and stop providing refugee groups and contractors with services and benefits on Jan. 31, the first available date to withdraw under the state’s current agreement with the federal government, the letter said.

“Empathy must be balanced with security,” Abbott said. “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.”

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