Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Nonprofit Says It Will Still Resettle Syrian Refugees

By Alexa Ura

A nonprofit organization that resettles refugees in the United States says it will move forward with the placement of Syrian refugees in Texas, despite warnings from officials in the Lone Star State not to do so.

The New York-based International Rescue Committee said in a Monday letter to Texas health and human services chief Chris Traylor that its Dallas affiliate would continue to provide resettlement assistance to all refugees “who have been admitted lawfully to the United States.”

The nonprofit had received a letter earlier on Monday from Traylor urging the International Rescue Committee’s Dallas branch to discontinue resettling Syrian refugees or risk losing its state contract “and other legal action.” The International Rescue Committee — one of about 20 nonprofits that have a state contract to resettle refugees in Texas — had previously informed the state that it would resettle two families in the Dallas area in early December. Both families have relatives in North Texas, the nonprofit said.

A spokesman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the nonprofit's letter.

Traylor's warning is part of state efforts to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Texas. Following terrorist attacks in Paris that were linked with the Islamic State group, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott last month joined more than two dozen governors in announcing that he would not allow Syrian refugees to be resettled in the state.

The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement last week warned Abbott and other governors that they do not have the power to reject Syrian refugees, telling them they would be breaking the law if they denied benefits or services to refugees based on their country of origin or religion. States that defy the law could face suspension or termination of their refugee resettlement programs, according to a letter signed by Robert Carey, director of the office.

Abbott has insisted he has the legal authority to refuse to accept Syrian refugees, citing a specific part of federal law requiring resettlement nonprofits to work “in close cooperation and advance consultation” with the state.

Refugee resettlement in the United States is completely funded by the federal government, but the state is in charge of contracting with local nonprofit organizations and distributing federal dollars to those agencies.

Texas also provides health assistance to refugees through two federally funded programs. Under the Refugee Health Program, the state contracts with city and county health departments to provide refugees with initial health screening, vaccinations and referrals for medical treatment. The Refugee Medical Assistance program offers short-term health care to refugees not eligible for Medicaid.

At least 242 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Texas since 2012. That number is relatively small for Texas — a hotbed for refugee resettlement — but the count of Syrian refugees was expected to increase significantly in the next year as the United States prepares to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees.

At least one other resettlement nonprofit, Catholic Charities of Dallas, had said it would continue to provide resettlement assistance to Syrian refugees. But as of Monday afternoon, that organization had not received a letter from the state similar to the one received by the International Rescue Committee, a Catholic Charities spokeswoman said.

In his letter to the International Rescue Committee’s Dallas branch, Traylor wrote that the state had been unable to “achieve cooperation” with the nonprofit even though “many” resettlement nonprofits had “expressed a willingness to work with the state to identify alternative outcomes for refugees from Syria who might otherwise relocate to Texas.”

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission was unable to provide a list of resettlement nonprofits that have agreed not to assist Syrian refugees.

At least two such nonprofits in Texas say they haven't made a decision about whether to continue settling Syrian refugees.

A spokeswoman for Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston said in a statement that it had not received a letter from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, “so no final determination has been made regarding our next steps for resettling Syrian refugees.”

Likewise, Refugee Services of Texas had not received a letter from the state about Syrian refugees, said president and CEO Aaron Rippenkroeger. The organization plans to "seek guidance on the ramifications" of federal and state requirements," he said in a statement.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

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