Texas is Still Trying to Block Refugees From Entering the State

Texas is Still Trying to Block Refugees From Entering the State
Illustration by Brian Stauffer

Texas has apparently come up with a new way to try to block Syrian refugees from entering the state — this time by telling the feds Texas won't accept the refugees unless federal officials certify that every arriving refugee does not pose a security threat. 

The Houston Chronicle this week obtained an August 15 letter sent from Charles Smith, the executive director of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement informing the feds that Texas would continue to be ornery. Even though the federal government has its own process of extensively vetting refugees that can take up to three years, that apparently isn't enough for Texas, which has repeatedly tried to block fleeing Syrians from coming here. It is still trying even after losing a federal lawsuit.

Earlier this year, a Dallas federal court declined to grant Texas's wishes to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the state, saying Texas failed to provide a legitimate reason to block the refugees and did not present "a substantial threat of immediate injury."

For months, state leaders including Governor Greg Abbott had asserted that Syrian refugees coming to Texas opened the state up to the threat of terrorism. The legal saga with the feds began last November when, following the Paris terrorist attack, Abbott wrote to President Barack Obama urging him not to accept any more Syrian refugees into the country, warning him that "American humanitarian compassion could be exploited to expose Americans to similar deadly danger." Then, the HHSC threatened to sue a Dallas resettlement agency if it accepted Syrian refugees slated to arrive in December — and followed through on it. 

But even though Texas lost that lawsuit — and even though, according to the federal Refugee Processing Center, 562 refugees have settled in Texas since last December without incident — the state is apparently unwilling to stand down on its belief that the feds don't have enough information to evaluate whether Syrian refugees are tied to ISIS, as Abbott claimed in his letter to Obama. 

In Texas's August letter to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which HHSC provided to the Houston Press along with its 31-page refugee resettlement plan, Smith said, "We remain concerned as ever for the safety of our citizens and the integrity of the overseas security and background vetting process of the federal resettlement program. We remain willing to place refugees in Texas with the strict contingency that you and other federal security officials provide certification that each refugee does not pose a security threat."

In the resettlement plan, Texas says it's not going to accept a refugee unless the FBI and Director of National Intelligence reach "unanimous concurrence" that the refugee is not a security threat, and then must certify this to Congress. The state also says it's not going to accept any more refugees in fiscal year 2017 than was originally allocated in fiscal year 2016.

How the state plans to enforce upon the federal government these demands, who knows? Perhaps Texas will file another lawsuit.

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