Dispute Over Security Clearances For Refugees Could Jeopardize State Program

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Update: Officials with the State of Texas have sent a letter to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, saying that the Lone Star State intends to withdraw from the federal program if the state’s proposed plan is not approved by the end of the month. Click here to read more.

DALLAS (CBS11) – Frishta Ali came to Texas two years ago from Kurdistan, north of Iraq, with nothing in her pocket.

So she says she relied on the $450 a month for food, rent, and any medical care she received for several months as a refugee.

“At the beginning, when you are here, you have nothing. With this money, with medical assistance, you can survive until you get used to the new system and get a job,” said Ali.

On September 9, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission sent agencies a letter explaining that federal money estimated at $30 million, provided for newly arrived refugees under the Refugee Cash and Medical Assistance Program may be in jeopardy.

That’s because the federal government didn’t approve the state’s refugee plan for the next budget year starting October 1.

In the letter, the state’s refugee coordinator Kara Crawford wrote: “If an approved State Plan and assurances of full funding for RCMA as outlined in the ORR-1 are not received by September 30, 2016, then the Health and Human Services Commission will not be able to finalize FFY 2017 contracts or administer program benefits under the RCMA Program or other social services beyond that date.”

Walter Nguyen, executive director of Mosaic Family Services, a non-profit agency in Dallas that helps refugees, says the program also provides health screenings.

They include immunizations for adult refugees and children before they attend school.

Nguyen says without federal money, even temporarily, he’s concerned about what would happen to those who recently arrive in the U.S., especially those who don’t know anyone else.

“If they don’t find a way, they may have relatives or they may move or find others who can help them, they potentially could become homeless,” said Nguyen.

At issue, Texas wanted the federal government to guarantee potential refugees would not pose a security threat before they come into the country.

In its plan, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission said, “A potential refugee may not be admitted as a refugee until the FBI certifies to DHS and the Director of National Intelligence that he or she has received a background investigation sufficient to determine whether the potential refugee is a U.S. security threat, and may only be admitted to the United States after DHS, with the unanimous concurrence of the FBI and the DNI certifies to Congress that he or she is not such a threat.”

In response, the federal government wouldn’t provide the assurance.

In a letter to Charles Smith, Executive Commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission this past July, the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Robert Carey said, “We want to emphasize that refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States, and to a multi-layered and intensive screening and vetting process involving multiple law enforcement, national security, and intelligence agencies across the Federal Government. If you would like more details about the screening process, we would be happy to provide you with a contact person at the State Department or to facilitate a security briefing.”

Frishta Ali says it took her four years from the time she began the process until she went through a security clearance and was accepted into the U.S. “All the hard times I was going through, they were calling me. It took a long time.”

Her job now is to help other refugees when they arrive in Dallas.

Last December, the state of Texas filed a lawsuit in Dallas federal court in an attempt to keep Syrian refugees out. But a judge tossed out the lawsuit in June of this year, ruling the state didn’t have any legal grounds to sue.

In addition to security concerns, Texas also requested the federal government not send a higher number of refugees to Texas than it did during this fiscal year.

The federal government couldn’t approve that request.

A spokeswoman says Texas re-submitted its plan last month to the feds without making any changes.

On Wednesday, Robert Carey, Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement told Texas it is reviewing the state’s plan.

Carey wrote: “It is our hope that we can continue our partnership with Texas on this very important work.”

But he also warned Texas, “We wish to remind you that if Texas chooses to withdraw from the Refugee Assistance Program it is required to adhere to the withdrawal regulations… In the event that a State decides to cease participation in the refugee program, the State must provide 120 days advance notice to the Director before withdrawing from the program.”

(©2016 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)Follow Jack on Twitter: @cbs11jack

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