By Jonathan Tilove
Texas ended its participation in the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program on Friday because of Gov. Greg Abbott's concerns that the federal government couldn't adequately guarantee that none of the newcomers would pose a security threat.
But Texas' exit from the program won't do anything to lessen the number of refugees entering the Lone Star State.
"Texas has repeatedly requested that the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the director of National Intelligence provide assurances that refugees resettled in Texas will not pose a security threat, and that the number of refugees resettled in Texas would not exceed the state's original allocation in fiscal year 2016, both of which have been denied by the federal government," Abbott said in a statement Friday.
"As a result, Texas will withdraw from the refugee resettlement program," Abbott said. "As governor, I will continue to prioritize the safety of all Texans and urge the federal government to overhaul this severely broken system."
Because of a notice requirement, Texas' withdrawal from the refugee resettlement program means that it will stop disbursing the federal dollars to the local agencies on Jan. 31.
Officials with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement will work to appoint designees to assume the state's responsibility for administering services to refugees in Texas until a later time when competitive bids would be accepted for a permanent entity to fill that role, said Toby Merkt, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
"ORR is working to prevent a disruption in the delivery of services and benefits to refugees and entrants in Texas," Merkt said "Refugees will continue to be resettled in Texas only after extensive screenings are conducted by the State Department and Department of Homeland Security."
"Working together, Texans from all walks of life will work diligently to create a new refugee service structure independent of the state of Texas to ensure that the most vulnerable and needy among us receive the welcome and support that they deserve, that demonstrates our true capacity as a state and a nation and that makes us all safer and prouder in the long run," said Aaron Rippenkroeger, CEO of Refugee Services of Texas, which has five offices, including one in Austin.
Jennifer Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, said she hopes the new arrangement is in place by the end of January, but she said the affected resettlement agencies, which includes Catholic Charities, might have to do some fundraising to make sure that refugee clients aren't denied services during the transition period and to cover whatever new administrative overhead might be needed. She said there are now about 14,000 refugees receiving resettlement assistance in Texas, and that, on average, they get help for 180 days. Allmon said an existing local resettlement agency, or its national parent organization, would likely be chosen to fill the administrative role now performed by the state.
The Texas refugee program, operated by the state entirely with federal dollars, was budgeted by the state for the current fiscal year at $104 million for cash and medical assistance, and $15 million for social services and employment assistance. Bryan Black, spokesman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which runs the state's refugee resettlement program, said federal monies also covered the program's administration and that the agency will work to find placements for all those state employees who had worked in that office.
In addition to additional security guarantees as a condition for staying in the program, state officials also demanded that the Office of Refugee Resettlement not place in Texas any more than the state's allocation of 8,797 refugees for fiscal 2016.
By Friday, the state's decision to quit the federal program was a fait accompli, with Abbott already using his decision to opt out to as a pitch to raise campaign money beginning a week ago.
In a fundraising email sent last Friday and again on Tuesday, Abbott wrote to potential donors that "the federal government's refugee settlement program poses a serious threat to our nation. Government's top priority is security. That's why Texas will withdraw from the flawed refugee resettlement program."
"I'm drawing a line in the sand, once again, and the Obama Administration is livid," Abbott wrote in the appeal. "Will you support my campaign with a contribution to help fight the attacks on me coming from Washington?"
(c)2016 Austin American-Statesman, Texas