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Gov. Abbott Throws Resettlement Agencies Into Limbo

Gov. Greg Abbott

Gov. Greg Abbott has sent a letter to President Obama saying Texas is closed to Syrian refugees. 

Like at least a dozen other governors, Abbott decided to bar Syrian refugees following the terrorist attacks in Paris.  The declaration has brought confusion to some Texas agencies who help refugees resettle.



In his letter to the President, Gov. Abbott said he’s directing the Texas’ Health and Human Services Commission not to participate in the Refugee Resettlement Program if that means Syrian refugees would be sent to Texas.  


Abbott cited concerns that ISIS fighters could exploit American’s compassion and launch Paris-style attacks in Texas.


“As Governor of the State of Texas, I will not roll the dice and take the risk by allowing a few refugees in simply to expose Texas to that danger,” Abbott said.


Abbott said the threat from ISIS in Texas is very real, citing the attack earlier this year by two gunmen in Garland who trained with ISIS, and the 2014 arrest of club owners in Austin who were accused of providing financial aid to ISIS fighters.


“What can I do as governor about it, Texas as well as other states participate in Refugee Relocation Programs and that is conducted through the Health and Human Services commission as of today, the Health and Human Services Commission isn’t going to be involved in any Syrian Refugee Relocation program," Abbott said.


Because the federal government oversees refugee resettlement programs, Mark Toner with the U.S. State Department said it's unclear whether states can bar Syrian refugees. Toner said State Department attorneys are researching the matter.


San Antonio immigration and refugee attorney Lance Curtright says it’s possible Abbott’s actions could result in the federal government cutting Texas’ funds that are used to reimburse churches and non-profits that help refugees re-settle in cities like San Antonio.


“I don’t know how much that is going to affect the overall program, but if the Texas Health and Human Services gets its funding from the U.S. Health and Human Services, which is a federal program, I think it’s more of a political statement made by the governor, more than having any affect where Syrian refugees are placed," Curtright said.


Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick support the governor’s call. They also believe the refugees could be a security risk.


Texas Congressman Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of  the House Committee on Homeland Security, agrees. He says the FBI currently doesn’t have a way to screen a large number of refugees to detect those who may be radicalized and dangerous.