US Refugee Office: Refusing Syrians may cost states funding

US Office of Refugee Resettlement says refusing to accept Syrians might cost states federal funds

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Syrian refugees Safa Mshymish (L) and Ismil Alrife (2R) sit with their children Rama (2L), Noor (C), Malath (3R), and Ameer (R) in their apartment in Chicago, Illinois, November 20, 2015

President Barack Obama's administration reminded United States governors that they don’t have the authority to refuse Syrian refugees through a letter written last Wednesday.

According to the letter from the US Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), "States may not deny ORR-funded benefits and services to refugees based on a refugee's country of origin or religious affiliation."

Refusal to accept Syrian refugees might cost US states suspension or termination of the funding used to resettle refugees, the letter also said.

The office spends nearly $1.5 billion annually to provide for about 75,000 refugees in the United States.

It is expected the number will increase to 85,000 in 2016 and to 100,000 in 2017.

Over two dozen US governors, mostly from right wing Republican states, declared they would not accept Syrian refugees after the November 13 Paris terrorist attacks which killed 130 people.

However, the US government counters that argument by stating that the vetting process is thorough and can take up to two years.

Obama has said the US will remain a welcoming place for refugees from around the world.

The letter of ORR said refugee candidates "are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States."

The screening process is "multi-layered and intensive" and involves multiple law enforcement, national security and intelligence agencies across the federal government, the letter continued.

Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott was among those who announced that he will not allow any Syrian refugees to enter his state, after the US House of Representatives passed Republican-backed legislation against President Obama’s resettlement plans for Syrian refugees on November 19.

Bryan Black, a spokesman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said the ORR letter will not change their position on blocking Syrian refugees.

He said the commission will follow the directive of Abbott, who says that a specific part of the law gives him authority to block Syrians, with which experts have largely disagreed.

Denying Syrian refugees could open the door to discrimination lawsuits, said Denise Gilman, director of the immigration clinic at the University of Texas School of Law.

She said that "There's no real legal claim here."

Some 240 Syrian refugees have been resettled in the state - the second highest number in the United States.

There less than 2,200 Syrian refugees have come to the US over the last four years.

Nearly 4.3 million Syrian refugees have registered with the United Nations since the conflict in their country began in 2011.

The Obama administration plans to bring 10,000 more Syrian refugees during the current budget year which ends in September 30, 2016.

TRTWorld and agencies