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Texas Threatens to Withdraw from Refugee Resettlement Program

As part of its fight to keep Syrian refugees out of the state, Texas is threatening to withdraw from the nation's refugee resettlement program if federal officials don't “unconditionally approve” a state plan requiring additional vetting.

Rally at Wooldridge Park in Austin to protest Gov. Abbott's decision on Syrian refugees on Nov. 22, 2015

As part of its ongoing fight to keep Syrian refugees out of the state, Texas is threatening to withdraw from the nation's refugee resettlement program if federal officials refuse to “unconditionally approve” a state plan requiring additional vetting of relocated people.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday said the state had informed the Office of Refugee Resettlement that it would leave the program unless the feds approved its plan to only accept refugees who “are fully vetted and do not present a security threat.” 

“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,” Abbott said in a statement.

In response to Abbott's announcement, federal officials said refugees are only settled in the United States after stringent security screenings. Security officials with the state department process applications received through the United Nations and conduct background and biometric screenings — a process that can take up to two years. Once refugees are cleared, one of nine national resettlement organizations place them in communities across the country, where local nonprofits contracted by the state use federal dollars to help them find jobs, learn English and enroll children in school.

"This model for refugee resettlement will continue in Texas," a spokesperson for the federal Administration for Children and Families said in a statement. 

Following terrorist attacks in Paris in November that left 130 dead, Texas’ Republican leaders have raised concerns about the vetting process, particularly as it relates to Syrians, saying the federal government is unable to ensure that individuals with ties to terrorist groups haven't slipped through the screening process.

In November, Abbott directed resettlement nonprofits in Texas to stop accepting Syrian refugees — a move the feds said Texas didn't have the authority to make. The state has sued the feds over Syrian refugees and seen its case dismissed, though an appeal is working its way through the courts. 

Meanwhile, Texas and U.S. officials have been negotiating refugee resettlement plans for the 2017 federal fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. Aside from the request for security assurances, Texas officials said they previously rejected a proposal by the U.S. State Department to increase the number of refugees resettled in Texas by 25 percent. They said they would only accept the same number of refugees relocated to Texas in the 2016 federal fiscal year: 7,633 as of Wednesday.

If Texas withdraws from the federal refugee resettlement program, it doesn't mean refugees would stop flowing to the state; the federal government could distribute money directly to nonprofit groups here. Resettlement officials have said the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980 allows the federal government to designate an entity other than a state government to serve as the state refugee coordinator and disburse funding — a set-up currently in place in six states. 

Refugee resettlement agencies on Wednesday denounced Abbott's announcement as misguided and inconsistent with Texas values, but insisted that refugees would continue to be resettled in the state under the coordination of a designated nonprofit organization. 

"Providing security and refuge are not mutually exclusive objectives," said Aaron Rippenkroeger, CEO of Refugee Services of Texas. "Texas has accomplished both objectives for decades. "

Read more on the Syrian refugee fight in Texas: 

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