AUSTIN, Texas (Sept. 22, 2016) – Texas has threatened to pull the plug on state assistance to refugees if the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) does not unconditionally approve the state’s revised resettlement plan by Sept. 30. The move would significantly hinder refugee resettlement in the Lone Star State.

The state’s refugee coordinator sent a letter to the ORR informing it of its intention to exit the program. The state’s updated refugee plan would require national security officials to ensure refugees do not pose a security threat to Texas. As required by the ORR, the state’s withdrawal from the program would take effect 120 days after the Sept. 30 deadline, on Jan. 31, 2017.

In a statement, Texas Gov. Greg Abbot said the refugee resettlement program is “riddled with serious problems” and the federal government lacks the ability to adequately screen refugees.

“Empathy must be balanced with security. 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, like the Iraqi refugee with ties to ISIS who was arrested earlier this year after he plotted to set off bombs at two malls in Houston. Despite multiple requests by the State of Texas, 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. Therefore, Texas will withdraw from the refugee resettlement program. I strongly urge the federal government to completely overhaul a broken and flawed refugee program that increasingly risks American lives.”

While the state’s withdraw from the resettlement program would not stop refugees from coming into the state, it would seriously hinder the process. Federal money funds the program, but state agencies in Texas do much of the heavy lifting.

The state manages $96 million in federal funds for services provided to refugees, according to the Wall Street Journal. Last year, it resettled some 7,000 refugees. Several nonprofits, such as the International Rescue Committee and a handful of faith-affiliated agencies assist the state in its efforts. If Texas pulls out, private agencies will have to carry the full load – quite a tall order in such a large state.

The New York Times downplayed the impact of Texas withdrawing from the program, but the practical realities look different. The state provides vital logistical, medical and social service assistance. In other words, the federal government depends on significant state action to resettle refugees. Without state administration of the federal program, it will become much more difficult to successfully resettle refugees. Even Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress agrees, saying such policies would “potentially make settlement of refugees more difficult than it would be if the states cooperated.”

The bottom line is that while resettlement is a federal policy and they continue it without state cooperation, the feds generally depend on the state to implement it in Texas. Lack of state assistance will almost certainly reduce resettlement in Texas. If other states follow suit, the pressure will build on the feds to reform its program.

Mike Maharrey

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