Texas threatens to withdraw from refugee relocation program

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Texas threatens to withdraw from refugee relocation program

Texas is threatening to withdraw from the federal government's refugee resettlement program due to security concerns and disputes over the vetting process.

Governor Gregg Abbott released a statement Wednesday indicating the state would move to discontinue its involvement.

"The federal government's refugee settlement program is riddled with serious problems that pose a threat to our nation," Abbott said in the statement.

It's the latest effort by Abbot to keep Syrian refugees out of the state -- a cause ignited in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris last year.

Texas filed a lawsuit about that issue. It was dismissed, but is now under appeal.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is working to increase the number of refugees brought in to more than 110,000 next year.

Binyam Gebrehewet is a Houston business owner and refugee. He came to the city in 2005, fleeing the African country of Eritrea. He was invited to the White House last week to help put a face to the refugee situation.

"From the Horn of Africa all the way to the White House, that's a big journey," he said. "I'm a refugee. I pay taxes equally to anybody. I do the job like anybody."

Daniel Stoker with the Alliance for Multicultural Community Services said most refugees are like Gebrehewet, eager to contribute. They are supported and helped to integrate by contracted organizations like the Alliance. He said he understands the fear.

"There's a lot of scary things happening. So, people are afraid. Often you are afraid of what you don't understand," Stoker said. "Most of these people have gone through a two year vetting process. That's the average it takes."

Stoker said only a fraction of the hundreds of refugees brought into the state are Syrian. He said those refugees are vetted, monitored and tested before they receive clearance to enter the US.

Governor Abbott and republican leaders demanded the federal government increase vetting and add additional assurances that the refugees do not pose a risk to Texas. An agreement was not reached leading to the roadblock.

"Despite multiple requests by the State of Texas, the federal government lacks the capability or the will to distinguish the dangerous from the harmless, and Texas will not be an accomplice to such dereliction of duty to the American people. Therefore, Texas will withdraw from the refugee resettlement program. I strongly urge the federal government to completely overhaul a broken and flawed refugee program that increasingly risks American lives," Abbott said.

However, if Texas withdraws it doesn't mean the refugees will stop coming to the state, according to experts. Under the resettlement law, the US government can setup an different organization as the refugee coordinator instead of state government. It's a setup already being used in a few other states.

"Empathy must be balanced with security. Texas has done more than its fair share in aiding refugees," Abbott said.

Gebrehewet said he's grateful that he was able to move here and pursue the American dream and he believes that's what the vast majority of refugees are seeking. He hopes Americans can review the situation rationally.

"When they come here, if we guide them. If we show them the way, they can live the American dream like all of us," he said.
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