AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM) - Officials with the State of Texas sent a letter Wednesday to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, saying that the Lone Star State intends to withdraw from the federal program if a proposed plan is not approved by the end of the month.
State leaders want national security officials to ensure that the refugees coming into Texas do not pose a security threat before they are allowed into the country. In the plan, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission said that refugees "may only be admitted to the United States after DHS, with the unanimous concurrence of the FBI and the DNI certifies to Congress that he or she is not such a threat."
The federal government would not provide that assurance.
Robert Carey is the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. He responded to the plan by letter. "We want to emphasize that refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States," he stated, "and to a multi-layered and intensive screening and vetting process."
State officials also requested that the federal government not send a higher number of refugees to Texas than it did during this fiscal year. The federal government would not approve that request.
The State of Texas filed a lawsuit in December in an attempt to keep out Syrian refugees. But a judge tossed that case in June, ruling that the state did not have any legal grounds to sue.
A spokesperson for the state said that Texas resubmitted its refugee plan last month without any changes. Carey said last week that his office was reviewing the plan. "It is our hope that we can continue our partnership with Texas on this very important work," Carey added.
Carey also told state leaders that, "if Texas chooses to withdraw from the Refugee Assistance Program, it is required to adhere to the withdrawal regulations." That means, should the state's plan not be approved by September 30 and Texas decides to opt out of the program, the partnership would end on January 31.
Linda Hartke, the president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, stated that she is "extremely disappointed that the State of Texas has announced that it is pulling out of the U.S. refugee resettlement program." Hartke added that "LIRS will continue to work closely with refugee services providers in the State of Texas and local communities over the next 120 days."
"The federal government's refugee settlement program is riddled with serious problems that pose a threat to our nation," said Gov. Greg Abbott in a statement on Wednesday, noting the FBI's "inability to fully screen refugees" from countries commonly associated with terrorist activity.
"While many refugees pose no danger, some pose grave danger," Abbott said. "The federal government lacks the capability or the will to distinguish the dangerous from the harmless."
In her statement, Hartke reiterated what Carey has said before -- that refugees already undergo rigorous security screenings before reaching our country. "Withdrawing from the resettlement program does not make Texans any safer or accomplish any public policy goals," she said. "It sends the message that Texas is an unwelcoming place for refugees."
Hartke even went as far to call the move a "stain" on "the reputation of Texas and the United States as a whole."
"Empathy must be balanced with security. Texas has done more than its fair share in aiding refugees, accepting more refugees than any other state between October 2015 and March 2016," Abbott said, with a message for federal officials. "I strongly urge the federal government to completely overhaul a broken and flawed refugee program that increasingly risks American lives."
"Texas leads the nation in refugee resettlement," Hartke stated. "The decision to pull out of the refugee resettlement program after nearly 40 years of participation is misguided and inconsistent with that state's proud history of welcoming refugees."
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