The United States plays an important role in protecting thousands of the world’s most vulnerable people and is one of 33 countries that resettles refugees. Our long-held legal and moral obligations to shelter those fleeing insecurity and persecution demand nothing less than a robust refugee resettlement by the United States.
However, the Governor of Texas disagrees and recently moved to abdicate his state’s responsibility and long commitment to the U.S. refugee resettlement program, following similar actions taken by the Governors of Kansas and New Jersey. Currently, Texas accepts more refugees than any other state, resettling 6,700 refugees last fiscal year. These radical policy shifts by conservative governors are out-of-line with tradition and do nothing to end refugee resettlement in their states.
In fact, despite Governors Abbot, Christie and Brownback’s decision to end their state’s involvement in the program, it is unlikely to have a major effect on the number of refugees resettled there. For example, a spokesman for the Office of Refugee Resettlement told the Texas Tribune that instead of working through the state of Texas, the federal government will now likely contract directly with nongovernmental organizations in the state, just as they do in several others.
As a matter of law, governors do not have the power to decide whether or not refugees resettle in their state. The Refugee Act of 1980 directs the federal government to manage resettlement of refugees and the Supreme Court and several lower courts have maintained that immigration—which includes refugee and asylum matters—is the responsibility of the federal government.
Despite all of the Governor’s rhetoric over security concerns, refugees are subject to one of the most rigorous screening processes prior to being considered for resettlement. According to Human Rights First:
“The screening process, which includes a rigorous system of interviews, background checks, and biometric data, takes place before refugees can even step foot into the United States. This can take anywhere from 18 to 24 months and even longer for Syrian refugees, who undergo an additional screening.”
It seems clear that these Governors are playing politics with the refugee resettlement program which adds no additional security or oversight to the program. In fact, by withdrawing the resources the state can provide to the process and the refugees themselves, the Governors are essentially abdicating their responsibility to the people of their state.
Photo by MaximilianV.