Texas Has No Authority Over Agencies That Resettle Refugees in State

The state of Texas currently has no authority over agencies that are resettling refugees in the Lone Star State.

A state official was asked if the state requires organizations that are involved in resettling refugees in the Lone Star State to be licensed by the state during a recent state senate hearing. “No,” replied Cecile Erwin Young, the state refugee coordinator and the chief of staff at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). “As it stands today, the HHSC has no jurisdiction or regulatory authority over the agencies that resettle refugees in Texas,” a spokesperson for the agency told Breitbart Texas. Other states have the same problem.

During last week’s hearing on the resettlement of refugees in Texas, Senator Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), the chairman of the Texas Senate Human Health and Services Committee, noted that the state does not license the agencies that resettle refugees in the state.

Senator Schwertner said the issue was one of the state having “some control” of these resettlement agencies. He said that while the “vast majority” of refugees “are innocent men, women, and children seeking an escape from violence, persecution, and death,” he explained that “we must also be realistic about the threats facing our own country.” He explained we must “remain ever-mindful of the fact that in today’s modern environment it takes just one bad actor to inflict untold death and destruction upon our homeland.”

He noted that the State of Texas licenses child placement agencies but does not license the agencies that are directly involved in resettling refugees.

The state also does not have any control of the resettlement agencies that have oversight of the refugees once they get here.

As reported by Breitbart News, the State Refugee Security Act of 2015 (S. 2363) introduced by Ted Cruz, is the third in a series of anti-terrorist bills proposed by the Texas senator. In December, Senator Cruz was joined by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a fellow Republican and his former boss, at a press conference. Cruz said the bill would give governors in the United States the right to reject the settlement of refugees in their state.

In January, Breitbart Texas reported that an Iraqi refugee who came to the U.S. in 2009 and was living in Houston, Texas, was brought before a federal judge after he was accused of providing material support to the Islamic State and the Levant (ISIL), an organization that has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization.

The danger that refugees pose to the country has concerned citizens and governors in the nation. Over half of the nation’s governors have said they want President Obama to halt the Syrian refugee program, a fact extensively reported by Breitbart News and Breitbart Texas. One of the Paris Islamic terrorists reportedly posed as a Syrian refugee in order to enter that country.

The Office of Immigration and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) is a division of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The website for the agency explains that “The Refugee Resettlement Program is an all-nationalities program, with the number and nationalities of refugee arrivals to the United States determined by the U.S. Congress and the president of the United States before the beginning of each federal fiscal year.”

The Texas senate committee hearing was held to address the charge to “Study the impact to the state of the increasing number of refugees relocating to Texas, including the range of health and human services provided.” The committee also met as was its duty, to “Examine the authority of the state to reduce its burden under the Refugee Resettlement Program, and any state-funded services.”

Senator Schwertner said, “The charge before us today asks this committee to evaluate how best to honor that tradition of compassion while at the same time protecting the safety of all Texans and ensuring that our state is not unduly burdened by the provision of that assistance.” He also said, “our sense of values demands that we offer aid and compassion to those in need, especially those fleeing violence and religious or political persecution. We are, after all, a nation of immigrants,” he said.

The CEO of Refugee Services of Texas (RSTX), Aaron C. Rippenkroger, addressed the issue of state licensing of resettlement agencies saying that his organization and other social services organizations are screened and regulated by the federal government. “We were monitored thirty times last year by different entities for different programs, whether licensing would add something more, I don’t know,” he said.

RSTX is based in Dallas but provides services to refugees in Fort Worth, Austin, Amarillo, Dallas, and Houston. It’s website says the agency partners with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Church World Service, and Episcopal Migration Ministries. Breitbart News has reported that these charities, along with Catholic Charities, are among the “non-profit” Christian organizations that have been reported to be profiting from a $1 billion federal program to resettle refugees, 40 percent of which are Muslim.

Whether the federal government can, or does, properly vet those who they allow into the country and our state, has been an issue of concern to those who are reflecting about the security of our nation, our state, and our cities.

As reported by Breitbart Texas, during the Congressional hearing on “Worldwide Threats and Homeland Security Challenges,” Lamar Smith asked FBI Director James B. Comey, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson, and Nicholas J. Rasmussen, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, about the security risk that Syrian refugees pose to Americans. Rep. Smith released a three-minute video highlighting their exchange. The video is included in the article.

Lamar Smith asked these federal officials about the vetting process and noted that terrorist organizations would most likely have individuals come into the country who have not yet committed a crime or had “a public background,” or committed a terrorist act.

DHS Secretary Johnson answered the vetting question by saying that every alleged refugee is interviewed, and every refugee completes an application. Smith responded by noting that the federal government is essentially relying upon the refugee who is filling out the application, and “you can’t go beyond that, so you are sorta having to take their word for it.”

The Office of Immigration and Refugee Affairs in Texas oversees the day-to-day coordination of refugee services for the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. The OIRA website states that Texas receives approximately 4,500 refugees every year.

The OIRA is a division of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and it was created by the Texas Legislature in 1991 to distribute federal funds available through the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and the Refugee Act of 1980. The agency works with organizations located in areas of the state with the largest numbers of refugee arrivals: Abilene, Amarillo, Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

An exhibit filed during the Texas state senate hearing shows that 42 percent of the refugees that are resettled in Texas are placed in Houston. Seventeen percent are resettled in Dallas, thirteen percent in Austin, twelve percent in Fort Worth, seven percent in San Antonio, and four percent each are placed in Amarillo and Abilene. One percent each is also placed in El Paso, Corpus Christi, and other locations.

According to the OIRA website, the actual resettlement of refugees in the local communities is conducted by local voluntary resettlement agencies (VOLAGs) that work with the U.S. State Department.

The OIRA website also explains, “The Refugee Resettlement Program is an all-nationalities program, with the number and nationalities of refugee arrivals to the United States determined by the U.S. Congress and the president of the United States before the beginning of each federal fiscal year.”

The exhibit from the senate hearing shows that OIRA in Texas contracts with local community and faith-based organizations to provide services for: Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA), Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA), and Refugee Social Services (RSS). They also work with these organizations to provide special discretionary grants, and work the DSHS on the Refugee Health Screening Program, and with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) on the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program (URM).

Refugees receive their designation of refugee status outside of the United States, with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The state of Texas has nothing to do with designating individuals as a refugee, or one seeking asylum, or other category.


Lana Shadwick is a writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She has served as a prosecutor and an associate judge in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2


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