Texas Decision to Pull Out of Refugee Resettlement Program Ignores Stringent Vetting Requirements
Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today condemned the decision by Texas Governor Greg Abbott to withdraw the state from the refugee resettlement program, erroneously claiming the program is a threat. This decision removes the state as the administrator of the program which will transition to a designated non-governmental organization. Refugees seeking safety and a chance to rebuild their lives will still resettle in Texas. Human Rights First notes that refugees are the most closely vetted group of individuals hoping to gain entry into the United States.
“Texas state officials should be ashamed of themselves for engaging in fear mongering that erroneously seeks to blame refugees for national security incidents, when, in fact, refugees go through years of rigorous background and safety checks before entering the United States,” said Human Rights First’s Jennifer Quigley. “Attempting to demonize an entire group of vulnerable individuals is an abdication of America’s role as a leader on refugee protection.”
Human Rights First notes that before entering the United States, refugees undergo a stringent multi-agency, multi-step screening process that typically takes 18-24 months. The State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Counter-terrorism Center, and the FBI each utilize multiple information databases and biometric screening information when determining whether a refugee is destined for the United States—and not all are. Expert intelligence analysts in these screening agencies report that they approve less than half of applications they receive.
Before these screenings even take place, refugees must first receive an official designation from the United Nations to be referred to a resettlement country. They have no control over what country they are designated to. Being resettled at all is a statistical improbability for a refugee. Last year the world resettled less than one half of one percent of the 21 million refugees in need, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Today’s announcement comes just one day after world leaders met in New York City to coordinate a response to the world’s largest refugee crisis since World War II. The Texas government’s decision undermines U.S. credibility in securing commitments from other countries.
National security experts have explained that U.S. resettlement of Syrian refugees advances U.S. national security interests and would protect the stability of important U.S. allies in the region, as detailed in Human Rights First’s February report, “The Syrian Refugee Crisis and the Need for U.S. Leadership.” A December 2015 letter from a bipartisan group of 20 former U.S. national security advisors, CIA directors, secretaries of state, defense, and homeland security confirms this national security interest and that Syrian refugees are vetted more intensively than any other traveler to the United States.
In addition, 32 of the nation’s most prominent national security leaders, retired military leaders, and former government officials, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, CIA Director General Michael Hayden, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), affirmed in a June 2016 Statement of Principles, “The United States has long been a refuge for those seeking safety and freedom, and for a simple reason: Americans believe their compassion and openness are sources not of weakness but strength. The demonstration of these qualities accords with the core ideals on which our nation was founded, and on which our greatness rests.”