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Texas Exits Refugee Resettlement Program Over Security Concerns

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DALLAS (CBS11) - After fleeing the civil war in Syria, Meizar Salem, his wife, and their 11 children say they're happy they just arrived in Dallas this week.

"We love America," said Salem.

But before coming to the land they said they dreamed of, they lived in Lebanon, and waited two and a half years before they were allowed to come to the U.S.

Salem said when their Syrian village was bombed, he knew they had to escape.

"The children were in fear from the sounds, from the bombs, they were scared," said Salem.

Concerns over Syrian refugees like the Salem family has now prompted Texas Governor Greg Abbott to withdraw from the federal government's refugee resettlement program during the next budget year beginning October 1.

As part of the plan the state sent the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement for the 2017 fiscal year, Texas requested the FBI and the Director of National Intelligence to give assurances that the refugees wouldn't pose a security threat.

But the ORR said it couldn't provide that.

In a statement, Mr. Abbott said, "As Governor, I will continue to prioritize the safety of all Texans and urge the federal government to overhaul this severely broken system."

Republican State Senator Don Huffines of Dallas said, "I certainly agree with the Governor. I think he has the right approach. Safety and security for all Texans is paramount."

Before the state can drop out of the program, it must give 120 days notice.

As a result, the state won't end its involvement until January 31, 2017.

Despite the news, the federal government will still resettle refugees in Texas But the ORR will have to find a non-profit agency or agencies to oversee the program instead of the state.

In a statement, a federal spokesperson said, "ORR s working to prevent a disruption in the delivery of services and benefits to refugees and entrants in Texas. Refugees will continue to be resettled in Texas only after extensive screenings are conducted by the State Department and Department of Homeland Security."

Services provided include: helping refugees find jobs and become self-sufficient within 180 days, providing health screenings, vaccinations, and Medicaid coverage, and helping refugees learn English.

In addition to security concerns, Texas had also requested that it not receive any additional refugees in the next budget year than the amount this year.

But ORR told the state it couldn't guarantee that either.

Not for profit agencies that help resettle refugees said they were disappointed with the Governor's decision.

Dave Woodyard, President & CEO of Catholic Charities of Dallas said, "We are concerned about the implications of the decision, but remain focused on how we can work with other partner organizations to best assist refugees in the next 120 days and beyond. We are confident there will be a plan put in place to ensure those in need receive help."

HIAS, a Jewish non-profit that protects refugees and one of nine official resettlement agencies in the U.S., says it stands with the 70 Texas rabbis who urged the Governor and the State of Texas to continue welcoming refugees.

The organization's President & CEO, Mark Hetfield said in a statement, "We are saddened by the false message Governor Abbott's decision sends to the world about Texas and about the United States, which have long traditions of welcoming refugees as a source of strength, not a cause for fear."

While the federal government will continue to send refugees to Texas to begin their new lives, Senator Huffines says he hopes the state's decision to withdraw over security concerns will send a message to Washington, D.C.

"We hope there is a say and that's the goal, that they listen to the Governor, they listen to the state of Texas and they listen to our elected officials," said Sen. Huffines.

But Meizar Salem said Americans shouldn't be afraid of him and his family.  He said they hope to become citizens.

"Our hope our children and we will be good members and sincere," said Salem.

(©2016 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)Follow Jack on Twitter: @cbs11jack


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