Texas sues as Syrian refugees head for the welfare state

AP photo

OFF THE BOAT: Syrian refugees wading to shore in Turkey could be landing in Texas by the end of the week.


By Kenric Ward, the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org

Syrian refugees in the United States will nearly double the cost of federal resettlement programs over the next two years. But Texas officials aren’t going along.

Late Wednesday, they sued the Obama administration to stop the refugees. Officials in Austin charged that Washington is keeping Texans in the dark about the status of the Mideast migrants, who could begin arriving in the Lone Star State by the end of this week.

“We have been working diligently with the International Rescue Committee to find a solution that ensures the safety and security for all Texans,” said state Health and Human Services Commissioner Chris Traylor. “But we have reached an impasse and will now let the courts decide.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Dallas, names Secretary of State John Kerry as the chief defendant.

The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement spent $606,805,703 in fiscal 2014, the latest year for which figures were available. The largest chunk was for “cash” and “medical assistance.”

Under President Obama’s order to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees next year, ORR costs are projected to escalate with the historic influx.

In 2010, 83,655 refugees from around the globe were eligible for U.S. tax-supported benefits. By 2014, 138,842 were on the rolls.

With 100,000 Syrians ticketed for entry in the next two years, ORR expenditures could balloon by more than 70 percent.

Health and Human Services Commission

STONEWALLED: Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner Chris Traylor wants to block refugee resettlement until the state can review medical and security information about the Syrian migrants.

Traylor said Wednesday, “We understand that Syrians may be scheduled to resettle in Texas as early as the end of this week.”

Traylor said his office received only secondhand reports and complained the Obama administration was stonewalling Texas authorities.

“We understand that the Department of State recently instructed voluntary resettlement agencies not to share specific refugee case information with the states,” Traylor said in a letter to Lawrence Bartlett, director of the Office of Admissions at the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

In the letter sent before the lawsuit was filed, Traylor requested “all demographic, medical, security and other case information relating to Syrians slated or scheduled for resettlement in Texas during the next 90 days.”

Also Wednesday, HHSC asked the Dallas-based International Rescue Committee to “halt resettlement of any Syrians seeking refugee status in Texas until we have received the requested information.”

The Refugee Act of 1980 requires that the federal government consult with state authorities in advance of any relocations.

Texas received no immediate response, triggering the lawsuit.

If Syrian refugees follow previous resettlement patterns, Texas looks to be a prime destination.

California received the most refugees in 2014 (18,279); Texas was second (12,787) but landed $12 million more in federal refugee funding ($59,979,204).

GO DEEPER: State-by-state comparisons

The ORR’s multilayered safety net supports refugees for years after their arrival. Even so-called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) dispenses cash for up to 60 months.

State and local governments are on the hook in subsequent years.

With long-term refugee employment rates running as low as 20 percent, secondary resettlements are shifting the newcomers to states with more robust welfare benefits. Minnesota — offering better-than-average assistance and home to a large Somali community — experienced the nation’s biggest in-migration of refugees in 2014.

JoAnn Fleming, executive director of the Texas activist group Grassroots America, said the cost of refugees is “ongoing and escalating.”

She characterizes the indigent-care Medicaid program — the fastest-growing segment of the state budget — as straining under a wave of legal refugees and illegal immigrants.

Local and state law enforcement is also under the gun.

“Additional manpower is necessary when you have an unassimilated population,” Fleming said from Tyler. “Governments are commandeering the assets of citizens to pay for something we never asked for.”

Kenric Ward writes for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Contact him at [email protected].

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