Texas pulls out of Refugee Resettlement Program: what does this mean for refugees?

The fate of many seeking help is now in question.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott - Photo by Star-Telegram (Courtesy of Google)

In early September, Texas officials threatened to leave the federal Refugee Resettlement Program.  The state of Texas has now followed through with the threat and announced that it will no longer be participating in the program.  Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, announced the state’s withdrawal on Friday, September 30, 2016. In his statement, Governor Abbott said, “As governor, I will continue to prioritize the safety of all Texans and urge the federal government to overhaul this severely broke system.”  Abbot made this statement following Texas’s dismissed federal claim that sought to prohibit Syrian refugees from settling in the state.  Texas officials requested the federal government to give them assurances that 1) the refugees will not pose as a security threat, and 2) that the number of refugees will not increase.  These requests were denied.  Following the lack of assurances, Governor Abbott made the decision to withdraw.

Texas’ announcement to withdraw from the Refugee Resettlement Program comes conveniently at a time when President Barack Obama announced his intentions to increase the number of refugee resettlements in 2017.  The White House has plans to bring in 111,000 refugees — a 30 percent increase — compared to the 85,000 that were allowed in this year.  The increase is due to the belief that all countries, including the United States, should be doing more to help individuals fleeing war.

Texas resettled more refugees than any other state because it is easier to find work.

Abbott, along with many other opponents of the Refugee Resettlement Program believe that refugees could pose a security risk.  This concern stems from the Paris terrorist attacks that happened last year.  Ever since then, conservative leaders from Republican-dominated states have raised concerns about letting Syrian refugees settle within their state lines.  The federal government has countered this by pointing out that refugees — as resettlement candidates — all go through an exhaustive screening process before they are allowed to enter the United States.  Advocates of the Resettlement Program agree that candidates within the program are properly screened and believe that the United States should in fact be doing more to help people fleeing from war.

The Refugee Resettlement program, also known as, The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), “provides new populations with the opportunity to achieve their full potential in the United States.”  The ORR offers refugees essential resources in an effort to help integrate them as members of American society.  Eligible persons include refugees, asylees, victims of human trafficking, and many more.  The Office of the Administration for Children and Families define refugee as “any person who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence, and is unable or unwilling to return to or seek protection of that country due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”  These types of programs are very helpful to the transition process of refugees as they enter the United States.  Without aid, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a refugee to properly resettle in the United States.

KUT reports that Texas’ threat of withdrawal has brought much tension among non-profit organizations that help with refugee resettlement.  Now that Texas has followed through with their threat by withdrawing, Aaron Rippenkroeger, with Refugee Service of Texas, told KUT that in order for such services to continue without interruptions, such non-profit groups will have to seek out advice and consult with other states to make sure that their transition is a smooth one.  Texas’ withdrawal not only effects refugee resettlement, state workers could also lose their jobs due to changes in administration and leadership.

Last year, approximately 7,000 refugees — mainly from conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East — were resettled in Texas.  Texas resettled more refugees than any other state because it is easier to find work in Texas as oppose to other states.  So, what does the withdrawal from the federal Refugee Resettlement Program mean for the state of Texas?

The state’s withdrawal from the Refugee Resettlement Program means that the state of Texas will stop disbursing its federal dollars to local agencies and organizations that aid with refugee resettlement on January 31, 2017.   States are required to give the federal government 120 days notice of withdrawal.  This means that the Office of Refugee Resettlement will have to work within those 120 days to find and appoint designees to step in and take on the responsibility of the state to administer services to refugees in Texas.  The United States Department of Health and Human Services spokesman, Toby Merkt, stated that the “ORR is working to prevent a disruption in the delivery of services and benefits to refugees and entrants in Texas.”

An existing local resettlement agency would most likely be chosen to take the place of the administrative role now performed by Texas.

Federal officials are able to bypass the state and team up with local groups in order to coordinate resettlements.  Kansas and New Jersey are already out of the federal Refugee Resettlement Program due to similar concerns.  This, however, has not prevented refuges from settling in those states.

Essentially, Texas’ withdrawal simply means that organizations that offer resettlement programs will have to find outside funding before January 31, 2017.  In order to provide more funding, some of the affected resettlement agencies may have to engage in fundraisers to insure refugees are still provided with adequate services.  Jennifer Allmon, the executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, reported to Statesman that an existing local resettlement agency would most likely be chosen to take the place of the administrative role now performed by Texas.

The International Rescue Committee, a resettlement agency for refugees, released a statement saying that the decision that Texas has made to withdraw “cannot obstruct our moral obligation to protect and welcome the world’s most vulnerable.”  Simone Talma Flowers, executive director of Interfaith Action of Center Texas, a group that also provides services for refugees, told KUT that both in the past and currently, the state of Texas has done a wonderful job of welcoming and helping the refugee families that resettle in the state of Texas.  “We have to do as much as we can to ensure that they know that they belong, this is their home, they are welcome here.”

Hopefully the impact of Texas’ removal from participating in the Refugee Resettlement Program will not greatly impact the services that are given to those individuals in need.  The Refugee Resettlement program is an excellent program that allows refugees to have a second chance, and provides outstanding services in order to achieve its goal. Hopefully the state of Texas will continue to be a welcoming state for incoming refugees who are running from the tragedies taking place in their home countries.  The need for safety in the United States is a major priority and that is why refugees endure an exhaustive screening process before entering the United States.  These refugees have done nothing wrong, other than run away from a conflict in an effort and make their lives whole again.  These individuals have gone through a lot, these services, are very much needed and should continue to be offered to all refugees.

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About Amaka Madu, Senior Staff Writer Emeritus (18 Articles)
Amaka Madu is a 2017 graduate of Campbell Law School and served as a Senior Staff Writer for the Campbell Law Observer. She is originally from Raleigh, North Carolina and graduated from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Political Science. Following her first year of law school, Amaka interned at the North Carolina Court of Appeals with Honorable Judge Tyson and during the second half of her summer, she participated in the Baylor Academy of the Advocate study abroad program in St. Andrews, Scotland. Amaka also currently serves as Secretary for Campbell University’s Black Law Student Association.
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