Texas escalated its fight with the Obama administration over refugee resettlements on Wednesday, threatening to pull out of the federal resettlement program if the state’s plan to limit the number of refugees it accepts and to receive additional security assurances is not approved.
Since the Paris terrorist attacks last year, conservative leaders in several Republican-dominated states have raised security concerns over Syrian refugees. Texas has been one of the most assertive, suing the State Department in federal court to try to bar Syrian refugees from the state and, on Wednesday, vowing to stop assisting the thousands of refugees from around the world who resettle in Texas annually.
In a letter to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, the state’s refugee coordinator wrote that if the state’s plan is not approved by Sept. 30, Texas will exit the federal program and will stop providing refugee-related services and benefits starting Feb. 1. In a statement, Gov. Greg Abbott called for Washington to overhaul the federal program.
“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,” Mr. Abbott said.
At least two other states, Kansas and New Jersey, have withdrawn from the federal program over what conservatives there have said are similar security concerns. But refugees have continued to arrive in those states, as refugee groups work with federal agencies, bypassing the states. The legal and regulatory framework behind such programs is well established, with federal officials initially appointing a so-called replacement designee to step in for the state and then developing an alternative program not administered by the state.
“Texas will still resettle refugees, but the coordinating role that the state has played will be facilitated instead by a designated nonprofit organization,” said Linda Hartke, president and chief executive of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
The Texas warning to federal officials comes after the state’s lawsuit seeking to prohibit Syrian refugees was dismissed in federal court in June. It also comes as the Obama administration plans to increase the number of refugees admitted to the United States, calling for 110,000 in fiscal 2017, up from 85,000 in 2016.
Texas officials have said the State Department wants Texas to increase the number of refugees coming to the state by 25 percent. The state’s refugee plan says it will instead keep the number at the 2016 level in fiscal 2017. The plan also says Texas will accept only refugees who the leaders of federal intelligence agencies can certify to Congress do not pose a security threat. The governor’s office has said certification would require “national security officials to ensure that refugees do not pose a security threat to Texas.”
Texas has long been a top state for refugee relocations: More than 6,700 refugees arrived in Texas between October 2015 and August 2016, the most of any state, according to State Department data.