Texas House Committee holds hearing on Syrian refugees

Members of the Texas House Human Services committee were told Tuesday- the refugee screening process is thorough -- but DPS Director Steve McCraw- also warned the review is dysfunctional. It's why McCraw wants Syrian resettlements to Texas put on hold.

"At the end of the day, we are talking about the relocation of individuals from countries with known terrorism presence that hasn’t been properly vetted,” said McCraw.

A first look at some of those causing such concern came this past weekend. Volunteers in Dallas provided Christmas presents to this family from Syria.

They're among 21 people to arrive in Texas since last month despite efforts by the state to keep them out. Director McCraw was asked if he suspected if any of the new arrivals have ties to terrorism.

"I have no reason to believe it, and I don’t even know who those individuals are,” said McCraw.

That’s not to say the state isn't trying to find out. Committee members were told by Health and Human Services Commissioner Chris Traylor a lawsuit filed by the state is an attempt to learn more about those in the federal refugee relocation program.

"There is basic information, anything from the identities to the age of the individuals that come in, we need that. As Col. McCraw talked about earlier today, it’s very important to get basic information before resettlement takes place,” said Traylor.

As part of the lawsuit- the state wants the non-profits that work with refugees to provide regular status updates. There has been a steady increase in Syrian refugees to Texas. From as few as two in 2011 to 217 in 2015.

Some on the committee, like Rep. Stephanie Klick ( R ) Fort Worth, believe it's time for a time out.

“I think at the very least a pause and that is not unprecedented, we did a pause back in 2011, because there was a concern and things needed to be retooled. I think we need to be prudent. We have a responsibility to protect the public, and if we need to beef up our vetting process then we need to pause and do so,” said Rep. Klick.

Chairman Richard Raymond - who called the situation a conundrum filled with speculation from both sides on the issue - suggested refugees should pass a lie detector test before being allowed into Texas.

While a representative with catholic charities said those in their program would probably be willing to do take a polygraph- she urged the committee not to react out of fear.

The state is still passing federal money on to local non-profits working with refugees - while the lawsuit is still pending. In the past five-years, 54-thousand refugees have been re-located to Texas, according to TX HHS.

The committee was told the majority have come from Burma, Cuba, Iraq, Bhutan and Somalia.


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