Texas Senate Passes Bill to End State Involvement in Refugee Resettlement

AUSTIN, Texas (May 3, 2017) – Last week, the Texas Senate passed a bill that would effectively end all state government cooperation with refugee resettlement. The move would significantly hinder refugee resettlement in the Lone Star State.

Sen. Donald Huffines (R) and Sen. Bob Hall (R) prefiled Senate Bill 260 (SB260) last fall. The legislation would abolish the the state Office of Immigration and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) and the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Immigration and Refugees.

On April 24, the Senate passed SB260 by a 20-10 vote.

The Texas legislature created the OIRA in 1991 to distribute federal funds available through the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and the Refugee Act of 1980. By abolishing the agency, Texas would effectively end state government assistance with refugee resettlement. The responsibility would then revert exclusively to the federal government. In practice, non-governmental agencies in Texas would likely take over the state’s role in refugee resettlement in Texas. For a detailed explanation of how refugee resettlement works, and the various roles of state governments, NGOs and the feds, click HERE.

Practically speaking, ending state cooperation with refugee resettlement probably wouldn’t stop the federal government from placing refugees in Texas, but it would undoubtedly hinder the process, probably significantly in the short run.

Last fall, Texas Gov. Greg Abbot sent a letter to Pres. Obama threatening to pull the plug on state assistance to refugees.

Through the OIRA, Texas provides vital logistical, medical and social service assistance for refugee resettlement. In other words, the federal government depends on significant state action to resettle refugees.The state manages $96 million in federal funds for services provided to refugees, according to the Wall Street Journal. In 2015, it resettled some 7,000 refugees. Several nonprofits, such as the International Rescue Committee and a handful of faith-affiliated agencies assist the state in its efforts. If Texas pulls out, private agencies will have to carry the full load – quite a tall order in such a large state.

Without state administration of the federal program, it will become much more difficult to successfully resettle refugees. Even Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress agrees, saying such policies would “potentially make settlement of refugees more difficult than it would be if the states cooperated.”

Ultimately, Texas has the authority to direct its personnel and resources as it sees fit. Since refugee resettlement is a federal program, the feds have full responsibility for managing it. States can help if they choose, but this remains a decision for the state, not Washington D.C.

WHAT’S NEXT

SB260 now moves to the House for further consideration.

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