State of Texas may withdraw from federal resettlement program

Ed Sterling

AUSTIN — Texas officials said the state will withdraw from the federal refugee resettlement program if the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement does not approve the Lone Star State’s refugee plan by Sept. 30.

In a Sept. 21 letter to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, State Refugee Coordinator Kara Crawford gave official notice of Texas’ intention to withdraw from the program. A news release from the governor’s office said the letter was in response to the federal government’s “unwillingness to approve Texas’ updated state refugee plan, which would require national security officials to ensure that refugees do not pose a security threat to Texas.”

 If Texas withdraws, the state’s role in the program would end effective Jan. 31, 2017, which is 120 days after the Sept. 30 deadline.

“Empathy must be balanced with security,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in explaining the state’s position. “Texas has done more than its fair share in aiding refugees, accepting more refugees than any other state between October 2015 and March 2016. While many refugees pose no danger, some pose grave danger, like the Iraqi refugee with ties to ISIS who was arrested earlier this year after he plotted to set off bombs at two malls in Houston. 

“Despite multiple requests by the State of Texas,” Abbott continued, “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.”

Texas’ refugee program currently provides:

— Temporary cash assistance for refugees who have lived in the U.S. for eight months or less.

— Medical assistance for refugees who have lived in the U.S. for eight months or less; and

— Social services to eligible refugees who have lived in the U.S. for five years or less.

While the Texas Office of Immigration and Refugee Affairs distributes funds to help refugees become employed, learn English and adjust to cultural differences, it is local agencies working with the U.S. Department of State that do the hands-on work in resettling refugees.  There are more than 20 private refugee-assisting charities in Texas, located in cities including Abilene, Amarillo, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

Paxton appeals Voter ID

Texas’ voter identification law has been temporarily relaxed by a court order for the approaching Nov. 8 general election.

But Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, in hopes of having the law’s photo identification requirements reinstated, on Sept. 21 filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. 

If Paxton’s petition is granted, the high court will review the summer decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which remanded the case to a Corpus Christi U.S. District Court for a temporary fix. The Fifth Circuit found that the Texas law is discriminatory in effect, with Hispanic citizens twice as likely and black citizens three times as likely as white citizens not to have photo identification that would be accepted at voting polls.

On July 24 U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi signed an order stating that a voter may sign an affidavit and present either a valid voter registration certificate or current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document showing the name of the voter.

If a voter does not have one of those documents, the voter will need to provide his or her date of birth and the last four digits of his or her Social Security number as a part of the affidavit. Unless there is conclusive evidence of impersonation or an incomplete provisional ballot package, the provisional ballot will be counted. 

Zika numbers updated

Statistics posted Sept. 21 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control show that Texas so far has had 195 reported cases of Zika, the mosquito-borne virus that can cause illness and birth defects in humans.

Other states with the most case counts are New York with 715, Florida with 652, California with 243, New Jersey with 117 and Pennsylvania with 106.

Florida had 43 locally acquired cases. No other state has reported any locally acquired cases.