Texas wanted assurances Monday from a major resettlement agency that it will not accept Syrian refugees and threatened legal action if Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's orders are defied.
The International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit that's based in New York and runs a program in Dallas, has given no indication that it will change course and relocate Syrian refugees somewhere other than Texas. Phone and email messages to the group were not immediately returned.
Abbott is among nearly two dozen governors, mostly Republicans, who have vowed to block efforts to resettle Syrian refugees in their states following the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris. The Obama administration reminded them in a Nov. 25 letter that states don't have that legal authority and could be punished, including suspension or termination from the federally funded resettlement program, if services are denied.
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That same day, Texas health officials sent their own letter, warning legal action against the International Rescue Committee if Syrian refugees are resettled in the state.
"Your agency insists on resettling certain refugees from Syria in the near future. I must ask that you fulfill your statutory duty to conduct your activities `in close cooperation and advance consultation' with the State of Texas," state Health and Human Services Commissioner Chris Traylor wrote in a letter, which was first reported by the Houston Chronicle.
He told the nonprofit to respond by Monday.
Nearly 20 organizations in Texas work with state health officials to provide services to refugees. Most others have "expressed a willingness to work with the state" to identify alternatives for Syrian refugees, according to Traylor, which essentially means finding homes somewhere other than Texas.
Roughly 2,200 Syrian refugees have been allowed in the U.S. over the last four years. The Obama administration, which says the vetting process is thorough and can take up to two years, has outlined a goal of bringing 10,000 more Syrian refugees to the U.S. during the current budget year.
Nearly 200 Syrian refugees have arrived in Texas already this year, according to federal officials. A large number of Syrian refugees have also resettled in California and Michigan.
Texas Republicans, who control every office of state government, have been particularly outspoken in their opposition. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has said "the risk to the safety and security of all citizens is outrageous," and on Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller's Facebook page run by his political campaign, images compared refugees to venomous rattlesnakes.
Governors, including Abbott, have expressed fears that militants planning a terror attack could enter the country under the guise of seeking refuge from war-torn Syria. In the House, lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly to erect higher hurdles for Syrian and Iraqi refugees.