AUSTIN (NEXSTAR) — Governor Greg Abbott followed through on his promise to pull Texas from the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Friday.
Texas, which is currently taking in more refugees than any other state, will no longer cooperate with the federal program.
In the past year more than 6,700 refugees resettled in Texas– that is more than nine percent of the total coming to the country.
The state’s refusal to participate in the program comes after the Obama administration did not agree to the state’s security demands for incoming refugees before negotiations ended Sept. 30.
“The tragic thing about this — the refugees, who are here who came here to have a better life, they are going to be displaced. Services are not going to be provided,” said Simone Talma Flowers.
The Executive Director of Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iAct), Flowers said she is saddened by the governor’s decision, along with many others.
“This is just one decision that’s being made and I believe there are many people that don’t support this decision,” Flowers said.
Since the state officially withdrew from the program, local non-profit organizations that help refugees resettle in Texas are seeing a sharp increase in support.
Flowers said, “The interest in people wanting to volunteer, wanting to donate, wanting to support refugees has been overwhelming.”
Just because the state will no longer resettle refugees, that will not stop refugees from coming to Texas.
Refugee resettlement in the state is funded by the federal government and managed by the state. The Texas Department of Health and Human Services distributes those dollars to local non-profit organizations that are contracted by the state to help refugees learn English, find jobs, homes and schools for their children.
DHHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement will have 120 days to implement an alternative coordination mechanism using nongovernmental entities. The federal government will likely continue the program in Texas and work directly with non-government organizations in the state, as it’s done in Kansas and New Jersey — two other states to withdraw from the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program.
Texas will continue to manage the federal program until Jan. 31, 2017.
Flowers, who noted the large size of the state and the high number of refugees placed in Texas, said that does not give an outside entity much time to come in and take over.
“Disruption of services is just really critical,” Flowers said. “Hundreds of refugee families are going to be affected, many organizations that work with refugees are affected.”
Refugee service agencies receive federal funding to assist over 14,000 beneficiaries who live in Texas.
In a written statement put out Friday, Gov. Abbott said, “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,” Abbott said Friday in a statement, “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 added, “As governor, I will continue to prioritize the safety of all Texans and urge the federal government to overhaul this severely broken system.”
The vetting process for refugees has faced heavy scrutiny since the deadly attacks in Paris last November. That is when Texas and 27 other states said they would not allow refugees in, citing security concerns after investigators revealed one of the Paris terror attack suspects posed as a refugee from Syria.
“The U.S. has the most stringent refugee security screening process the world,” Flowers said.
The whole process can take up to two years. Refugees first have to apply through the United Nations. Then, security officials with the State Department process the applications; including background checks and biometric screenings.
If a refugee passes those checks, they are placed with one of the nine national resettlement organizations.
A written statement from the Refugee Services of Texas said local organizations will continue to work with the state “to ensure there is no disruption in services for vulnerable refugees and other eligible populations in the coming months.”
The statement added, “Texans are welcoming and compassionate people. We will continue to uphold those values as we help the most vulnerable among us rebuild their lives in peace and freedom.”