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Texas poised to withdraw from refugee resettlement program

Texas plans to withdraw from the federal refugee resettlement program due to concerns that some refugees might pose a security threat, the governor said Wednesday.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he has given the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) notice that Texas would withdraw from the resettlement program unless the office unconditionally approved the state’s new refugee plan by Sept. 30. That plan calls on national security officials to certify that the admitted refugees won’t pose a threat to Texas.

Despite the governor’s ultimatum, federal officials indicated that refugee resettlement would continue in Texas.

“ORR’s services are provided only after an individual successfully completes stringent security screenings, is granted refugee status by the Department of Homeland Security and is brought to the U.S. for resettlement by the State Department,” a spokesperson for the Administration for Children and Families, which oversees the ORR, said Thursday in an email to AMI Newswire. “This model for refugee resettlement will continue in Texas.”

Abbott’s announcement comes during the same week that President Barack Obama defended the nation’s refugee program at the United Nations.

“We resettle more refugees than any other nation,” Obama said during the U.N.’s Leaders Summit on Refugees. “As president, I’ve increased the number of refugees we are resettling to 85,000 this year, which includes 10,000 Syrian refugees – a goal we’ve exceeded even as we’ve upheld our rigorous screening.”

This week State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a television interview that despite a tough vetting process, Islamic State terrorists have been known to infiltrate into refugee camps in the Middle East.

“I wouldn’t debate the fact that there’s the potential for ISIS terrorists to try to insert themselves, and we see that in some of the refugee camps in Jordan and in Turkey, where they try to insert themselves into the population,” Kirby said.

In his statement concluding that some refugees pose a grave danger, Abbott brought up the case of an Iraqi refugee with ties to ISIS who was arrested in January for allegedly planning to detonate bombs in two Houston malls.

“The federal government’s refugee settlement program is riddled with serious problems that pose a threat to our nation,” the governor said. “The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the director of national intelligence have repeatedly declared their inability to fully screen refugees from terrorist-based nations.”

In a letter to the ORR’s director, Robert Carey, Texas state refugee coordinator Kara Crawford said the state’s expected withdrawal would be finalized by Jan. 31. 2017.

“If you do not approve our State Plan as amended by Sept. 30, 2016, we will interpret your silence as a rejection of the application,” Crawford said in Wednesday’s letter. “If our application is rejected — whether explicitly or by silence — the (Texas) 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.”

A news release from the Texas governor’s office said the ORR has been unwilling to give Texas assurances that the refugees posed no security threat. The Administration for Children and Families provided AMI with a copy of a letter sent to the governor last fall that defended and detailed the refugee vetting system.

“The process is multi-layered and intensive, involving multiple law enforcement, national security and intelligence agencies across the Federal Government,” the letter signed by Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said. “Additional precautions have been added with regard to Syrian refugees. We continually evaluate whether more precautions are necessary.”

The ORR is poised to continue refugee settlements in Texas because regulations authorize the office to appoint a replacement to oversee assistance and services given to refugees whenever a state pulls out of the refugee resettlement program. In such situations, the Department of Health and Human Services selects an interim administrator until a permanent program is put in place through competitive bidding.

Such refugee assistance is carried out by bypassing state agencies through something called the Wilson-Fish program, named after the congressional sponsors of legislation that created the program, former California Sen. Pete Wilson and the late Rep. Hamilton Fish of New York. The chosen administrator is typically a private nonprofit organization.

Despite Abbott’s criticism of the resettlement program, Texas has become home to a large share of the nation’s refugee population. It accepted more refugees than any other state between October 2015 and March of this year, Abbott said. Texas took in nearly 800 Syrian refugees from Oct. 1, 2015, to Aug. 31 of this year, according to the federal Refugee Processing Center.

“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,” the governor said.

Abbott is not the only governor to fight the Obama administration’s refugee policies. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s running mate, has been fighting a court battle to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees in his state. The matter is now before a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago.