On Wednesday morning, Texas’ state refugee coordinator sent a letter notifying the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement that Texas could end its participation in the federal refugee resettlement program. In an accompanying press release, Governor Greg Abbott called the program a “broken and flawed” system that “increasingly risks American lives.” He warned that if the federal government did not approve the state’s proposed refugee plan for 2017, which stipulates that Texas would be allowed to accept only those refugees who are certified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to be “not a threat,” then the state would have no choice but to withdraw from the program.
The plan was submitted in August, and it appears unlikely to be approved. Despite Abbott’s fears, it’s worth noting that the federal refugee intake system already involves an intense vetting process, including extensive background checks (see this helpful chart for a more detailed breakdown of that process), and there is no evidence that an already radicalized terrorist has slipped through the federal refugee screening to arrive on U.S. soil.
Abbott and other political leaders in Texas have long taken a hard-line stance against refugees resettling here, particularly regarding refugees from countries like war-torn Syria. For example, just a few days ago, Senator Ted Cruz renewed his call for Congress to block the U.S. resettlement of refugees from the Middle East. But despite pushback from politicians, Texas remains the nation’s top destination for refugees. The reason? The state doesn’t actually get any say in the matter.
That’s why a Texit from the federal refugee program wouldn’t really matter. According to the Houston Chronicle, all this would mean is that Texas’s resettlement office would no longer be “a pass-through for federal relocation dollars to charities and other private resettlement agencies.” Instead, the federal program would just distribute its funds directly to the non-profits actively resettling refugees in Texas. This would hardly be much of a change from what’s happening right now, since Texas is one of several states that uses a public-private partnership model rather than administering funds entirely through a state-run office. In other words, Texas pretty much had one foot out the door even before this letter.
Should Texas officially drop out of the federal program, it would be the fourth state to do so. Wyoming has been out of the program for a while, and Kansas and New Jersey both recently withdrew over similar security concerns. When Kansas was in the process of withdrawing this spring, federal officials made it clear that the move would have “no effect on the placement of refugees by the State Department” in Kansas, according to the Wichita Eagle. There’s no reason to think it would be any different in Texas.
All of this comes amid President Barack Obama’s announcement last week that the U.S. plans to increase its refugee intake by about 30 percent over the next year, starting in October. Last year, Texas resettled 2,677 refugees between October 2015 and April 2016. That number will likely grow, whether or not Abbott and Cruz like it.