Nonprofits told not to help Syrian refugees

As of 4 p.m. Friday, several Houston organizations complied with Governor Abbott's deadline order to stop providing help to Syrian refugees.

As of 4pm Friday, several Houston organizations complied with Governor Abbott's deadline order to stop providing help to Syrian refugees.

It comes in response to the deadly terror attacks in Paris on November 13th.

A letter from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission went out to several local non-profits this week asking the organizations to comply with the Governor's request by Friday afternoon.

However, some say it comes across as an ultimatum: comply or risk funding.

"It puts them in a situation that I think is very uncomfortable," said immigration attorney Gordon Quan regarding the letter. "This is basically saying, 'Don't do resettlement. If you do resettlement of these Syrian refugees, you may be endangering the whole program that you have'."

The letters could affect programs at organizations like Interfaith Ministries, Catholic Charities and YMCA International Services just to name a few.

Quan explains that programs could be endangered by losing funds to keep them running. Although refugee resettlement costs are funded by the federal government, Quan says the state has the ability not to accept the funds; essentially that could cut these organizations off at the knees.

On Monday, Abbott announced that Texas would not provide refugee status to Syrian refugees, this was in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris.

"As the governor of the state of Texas I will not roll the dice and take the risk on letting a few refugees in simply to expose Texans to that danger," said Abbott.

"They are here to just live the American dream," said Ghulam Kehar, CEO of Amaanah Refugee Services, an organization that does not rely on federal and state funding to operate, but often works closely with organizations that do.

"At this moment I think they [non-profits] are just figuring out what this means and how it logistically and operationally will impact what they're doing," said Kehar.

Kehar explains that all refugees go through a serious one to two-year vetting process and clarifies that the refugees that come to the US are different from the migrants traveling across Europe.

In order for a person to acquire refugee status, they have to register with the United Nations first, the UN will then verify whether the person qualifies as a refugee.

"They have secondary security screens with the FBI, the CIA, the Department of Defense," adds Kehar.

"Refugees are not just given a free ticket to come to United States," said Quan. "They have to go through so many levels of vetting."

Last year more than 7,200 refugees resettled in Texas, 213 were Syrian and 102 resettled in Harris County. However, after many of the organizations have complied with the Governor's request, that number is likely to be less this year.

"It seems like it's overreaching," added Quan, "and just so broadly interpreted. It's instilling fear in our population and we Texans are better than that."

According to Quan, he thinks there could be a legal basis for these organizations to challenge Abbott because it can be seen as discrimination against a particular nationality.

For more information about Amaanah Refugee Services and an event on Saturday aimed at making Houston refugees feel welcome click here.


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