AUSTIN (KXAN) — Tuesday the House Human Services committee heard from state officials about how many refugees are in Texas, what the security threat is, and the status of the lawsuits trying to stop them. The United States is expected to take in around 10,000 refugees fleeing the violence of the Syrian Civil War. Earlier this year, Gov. Greg Abbott, along with 30 other governors across the country, directed the Texas Department of Public Safety and state health workers to opt out of the national resettlement program.
More than a week ago, Sen. Ted Cruz stood with Abbott to file the State Refugee Security Act of 2015. His bill would allow the governor of a state to reject the resettlement of a refugee for security reasons. It would also force the Office of Refugee Resettlement to notify the state no later than 21 days before the arrival of the refugee.
Texas is asking a court to stop Syrian refugees from settling in the state, citing security concerns. In the meantime, the federal government and local non-profits keep working to resettle all refugees, including Syrians fleeing ISIS.
Washington gives Texas money to distribute to non-profits to resettle refugees. Barring the contracts and paperwork surrounding that, the state doesn’t really do much and health workers are not stopping the cash flow.
“The conversation of today, the sensationalism, the fear and the misunderstanding about refugees, this conversation is frankly getting in the way of some of our most important work,” said Heather Reynolds from the Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, which helps get refugees on their feet in Texas. She told the House Human Services Committee the fight between the state and the federal government is getting in the way.
“The refugee resettlement agencies are in a difficult position between the state and federal government on this issue that likely will be resolved by litigation,” said Chris Traylor, Executive Commissioner for the Health and Human Service Commission. He says while they wait on a judge’s decision, the money will continue to go to the non-profits. In the long run, he expects more Syrian refugees in Texas. “There is the potential for more coming in. We don’t have any that we know of in the next week or 10 days.”
“Exactly and the public is very concerned about this,” said Fort Worth Republican and committee member, Stephanie Klick. She says the state is being left out of the process.
From legislators to the head of DPS—who wants the names and ages of refugees before they get to Texas—Texas can do little to stop Syrian refugees from coming in, until a judge rules in the state’s favor. DPS Director Steven McCraw claimed he knows of at least one case of someone connected to terrorism in the asylum program. McCraw said “without question this is happening” but he would not go into details during the hearing.
The Attorney General, representing the State of Texas, asked for a temporary injunction to stop the continued resettlement. A judge in North Texas threw out and the case. The state filed another one. The state’s case says non-profits and the Federal Government has a contract with the state that says the state must be involved and agree with the process.
The state and federal government are arguing over the Refugee Act of 1980, which has vague language about how and when a state can opt out of the national resettlement program.
Abbott’s decision is based on his recommendations from the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the House Homeland Security Committee, which is chaired by Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin. They say the U.S. doesn’t have the capability or know-how to accurately vet the thousands of expected refugees. The lawsuit says the non-profits and the federal government broke their contract by not cooperating with state health workers.
Abbott decided it was not worth the risk. “We need to put the security of Texans, first,” Abbott has repeatedly said.
How Refugees are Screened
Less than one percent of world refugees get considered for resettlement in the United States. Those who make the cut face a multi-level security process
It includes steps to confirm the person’s identity including an iris scan. Security agencies screen the candidates including the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. Each person must go through a face-to-face interview outside of the United States. Then, their fingerprints are screened against FBI and Department of Defense databases. If they clear the security check, refugees then face a medical exam and cultural orientation classes before they’re allowed into the United States. The vetting process takes about two years on average to complete.
Many in and outside of Washington criticized the vetting process after recent terrorist attacks that killed scores of civilians in Europe and in America.