Due to apparent overloading of Amarillo community institutions from refugee resettlement and secondary migration the area’s State Senator has now sponsored a bill that would require the state’s Health and Human Services Commission (which coordinates with HHS-ORR and the US State Department) to coordinate with local officials. The US State Department restricted resettlement in fall 2013, but family reunion cases and an apparent larger secondary migration kept new settlements climbing. If the unfilled job positions are there people will keep arriving. The new leader of Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle (formerly Catholic Family Service Inc.) claimed she found out about the problems with institutional overloading in 2011 from the larger community, the year she took over the agency; implying neither her staff nor her predecessor knew about this essential issue effecting the community, or knew but did not tell her.
The bill would require the two local resettlement agencies (the other being Refugee Services of Texas) to “convene and conduct quarterly refugee placement consultations with state and local government and community stakeholders regarding proposed refugee placement; (b) obtain feedback on the proposed refugee placement from community stakeholders including but not limited to city, county, and state officials; local health care systems; local school districts; and local law enforcement agencies; and major employers of refugees; (c) consider all feedback obtained prior to releasing the annual proposed refugee placement report for the United States Department of State’s Reception and Placement (R&P) program; (d) develop a final refugee placement report for the national voluntary agencies and Health and Human Services Commission and include a summary of how stakeholder input contributed to the final request; and (e) inform all community stakeholders, as described in…(b), of the annual proposed refugee placement report.”
The bill’s sponsor, State Senator Kel Seliger, has, according to Wikipedia, served four terms in the nonpartisan position as mayor of Amarillo from 1993–2001. He is considered one of the most moderate of the twenty (as of 2015) Texas Senate Republicans…according to an analysis by Mark P. Jones of the political science department at Rice University in Houston. Seliger filed and sponsored over seventy-five bills, fifty of which passed in one form or another during the regular session of the 79th Legislature. (Seliger passed a bill requiring local law enforcement agencies to report to the state the reason for a peace officer’s termination to protect state law enforcement officers’ integrity – preventing those peace officers with a history of poor performance or unethical behavior from taking advantage of police departments that lack the resources to investigate their employment history. He also passed a bill ensuring that effective pipeline safety standards are in place for all construction work around oil and gas pipelines).
Oddly, federal regulations already require quarterly meetings, however HHS-ORR’s director may exempt states from the requirement (Title 45: Public Welfare, 45 C.F.R. PART 400—Refugee Resettlement Program, § 400.5 Content of the plan). The mayor claims that quarterly meetings haven’t happened in over 20 years. Senator Seliger’s bill has the support of some local officials, including Amarillo’s mayor, as well as the superintendent of schools. As of today’s date the bill has been placed on the Texas Senate’s intent calendar.
If, however, the bulk of the refugees coming in are from secondary migration – refugees arriving under their own volition from their primary resettlement sites, then I don’t see how this bill or any other would stop that. People have the constitutional right to live wherever they chose (freedom of movement), and the other arriving refugees, for reunification with family, have the same right. Its only in the case of “free” cases (no geographical connections) that resettlement agencies and the State Department can chose where to direct them. But the State Department already restricted that as of 2013, so this bill will do nothing to prevent people from arriving to fill local job vacancies. Growing companies add to the local tax base; they need more employees, who in turn add to the tax base with their earnings and spending. That money is what needs to be used wisely for increasing public services to meet demand, rather than just scapegoating refugees. An article at KFDA ABC News Channel-10 explains current happenings:
Amarillo, TX – A new bill by a State Senator Kel Seliger …SB 1928 would allow local healthcare officials, school districts, and law enforcement to give feedback to the State Department about how many refugees our community can accept and reasonably deal with in the future. Under the bill, there would also be quarterly meetings on refugee placement with state and local officials – something Mayor Paul Harpole says hasn’t happened in over 20 years. The whole point of this bill is to get further input from people in the community rather than just the two resettlement agencies in Amarillo, Refugee Services of Texas and Catholic Family Charities… Many are in support of this new bill, including AISD’s superintendent Rod Schroder. “This is a good bill that will help the agencies who resettle refugees understand the issues and challenges our city faces,” said Schroder. He adds hopefully the city can play catch up with the refugees they have now… Read more here