- Associated Press - Monday, November 23, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - In a story Nov. 20 about Texas instructing resettlement organizations not to help Syrian refugees, The Associated Press incorrectly identified the Health and Human Services executive commissioner. He is Chris Traylor, not Chris Turner.

A corrected version of the story is below:

Texas orders its volunteer groups to stop resettling Syrians

Texas orders volunteer groups to stop resettling Syrians immediately, despite legal questions

By WILL WEISSERT

Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Texas has instructed volunteer organizations that settle international refugees to immediately stop helping Syrians in the wake of the deadly Paris attacks - even though it may not have the authority to do so.

The Health and Human Services Commission wrote Thursday to volunteer and community groups reminding them of a “statutory duty to cooperate and consult” with the state. The letters were released to the media on Friday.

“If you have any active plans to resettle Syrian refugees in Texas, please discontinue those plans immediately,” according to the letter, which was signed by Chris Traylor, the agency’s executive commissioner.

It also asked that groups notify state authorities immediately if they learn that federal authorities are proposing resettlement in Texas using their services, adding “we reserve the right to refuse to cooperate with any resettlement on any grounds.”

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and more than half of his gubernatorial counterparts have said their states will not take in Syrians fleeing their war-torn homeland, citing security concerns. Authorities in Washington, D.C., say resettlement programs are federally funded and involve volunteer and private organizations - meaning states can’t dictate policy.

Abbott has countered that by pointing to specific language in federal law.

“The narrative out there is absolutely false when they say governors have no authority to do anything about this, because we do,” Abbott said Wednesday on the Fox News Channel. “Under Section 8 of the U.S. Code, Section 1522, it specifically authorizes the states to control these refugee programs.”

Legal experts, however, have told The Associated Press that the statute spells out only states’ rights to consult in the process. The governor’s office said Friday it preferred not to comment beyond Abbott’s previous statement.

While questions of authority linger, the effects of the order already are being felt in Texas.

Relatives of Syrians who live in the Dallas area had been scheduled to resettle their families there Dec. 4. But Anne Marie Weiss-Armush, who heads the nonprofit refugee-assisting organization DFW International Community Alliance, said the letter from Texas health authorities means they will likely be headed to another state.

That decision will ultimately be made by the agency that contracted with federal officials to handle the Syrians’ resettlement, the International Rescue Committee.

“It’s not going to stop the Syrians,” she said of Texas’ orders. “These refugees have been in the vetting process two years. They’ve been investigated multiple times and they are still coming. But they will not be coming where they are not wanted.”

Weiss-Armush said the suburb of Richardson had been an ideal place since relatives were willing to take them in. She said her organization will put beds that had been donated for the families to use in storage.

“It reminds me of the Japanese-Americans that were resettled in the desert,” Weiss-Armush said, referring to U.S. internment camps from the 1940s. “Innocent families that were caught up in World War II.”

Also Friday, a family in Connecticut accepted a married couple and their 5-year-old son who fled Syria in 2011 and had been set to resettle in Indiana. The refugees were reassigned after Gov. Mike Pence ordered state agencies to halt resettlement activities.


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