Texas will stop helping the U.S. government provide aid and services to refugees, state officials said Wednesday, severing ties at a time when President Barack Obama has announced intentions to dramatically increase the number of resettlements in 2017.
Kansas and New Jersey have also pulled out of the federally funded refugee resettlement program due to what Republicans have called security concerns. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said his state will follow suit unless demands for more rigorous refugee vetting are “unconditionally” met by Sept. 30.
Federal officials say refugees are exhaustively screened and have won several court battles over states’ efforts to block the arrival of Syrian refugees in the wake of November’s deadly attacks in Paris.
But GOP leaders, including vice presidential candidate and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, have said a Syrian passport, now believed to be fake, was found near one of the suicide bombers, and earlier this week, presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s eldest son likened refugees from the war-torn country to a bowl of poisonous candy.
“Empathy must be balanced with security,” Abbott said Wednesday in a statement.
“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,” the governor said.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement that services for refugees would continue in Texas. In other states, the Obama administration works directly with local resettlement agencies instead of passing federal dollars for refugee services and benefits through state agencies.
One of the largest resettlement agencies in the U.S., the International Rescue Committee, released a statement from its Dallas director saying that Texas’ decision “cannot obstruct our moral obligation to protect and welcome the world’s most vulnerable.”
“Texans are welcoming people. We intend to uphold that value.” Catholic Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth
Catholic Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth, in a statement released by the Texas Catholic Conference, agreed, saying, “Our first priority is to assist refugees and their local communities who will be directly impacted by these decisions. We continue to work within the rule of law and in cooperation with local, state and federal authorities in this important work.”
Olson sought to keep the focus on refugees who need help. “We are committed to doing everything we can to continue to assist them in getting back on their feet, in finding work, a new home, school for their children, and so forth … Texans are welcoming people. We intend to uphold that value.”
The White House has said the U.S. would resettle 110,000, a 30 percent increase over the 85,000 allowed this year.
Obama told the United Nations this week that world leaders have pledged to take in 360,000 refugees next year, calling it a “crisis of epic proportions” that tested both the international order and the world’s humanity. He added, “History will judge us harshly if we do not rise to this moment.”
Nearly 30 states vowed to block Syrian refugees following the Paris attacks. Texas was the first to sue the federal government in an attempt to block resettlements, but a judge threw out the lawsuit in June after twice rejecting the state’s claims that refugees presented an imminent risk. The state has appealed.
Indiana is also continuing to fight in court over efforts to uphold Pence’s order to bar agencies from helping Syrian refugees resettle in his state. A federal judge has ruled the order “clearly discriminates” against refugees, which the state is appealing to a high court in Chicago.
Federal data indicates that 896 Syrians arrived in Texas from Oct. 1 through Sept. 21. Thus far, most Syrians have arrived to Dallas, where 338 Syrians were listed.
While Texas leads in the number of refugees resettled overall — 12,120 nationwide — many Syrians are moving to California, Michigan and Arizona. Those states had 1,402, 1,328 and 819 Syrian refugees, respectively, from Oct. 1 to Sept. 8. The number of Syrians resettling in Texas is 896.
Anne Marie Weiss-Armush, president of the DFW International Community Alliance, said the Metroplex has experienced “a surge” in Syrian families, which she attributes to stepped-up efforts by the federal government to meet a goal of resettling 10,000 Syrians. The goal was reached in August, but refugees continue arriving, she said.
Staff writers John Gravois and Diane Smith contributed to this report, which includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.