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Citing Security Concerns, Brownback Withdraws Kansas From Federal Refugee Program

Kansas News Service/File photo

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is withdrawing the state from the federal refugee relocation program. Brownback announced Tuesday that he has notified President Barack Obama's administration that due to safety concerns, Kansas will no longer participate in the refugee resettlement program.

Brownback said in his media release Tuesday that on April 19, he met with representatives of the Department of State, Homeland Security and the National Counter-Terrorism Center to address concerns over security, but that he failed to "receive reasonable assurances and information about the refugee resettlement process."

"As Governor, I must have confidence that the refugee relocation program, and particularly the vetting process, is sufficient to protect our citizens," he said in the release. "If I have to choose between the safety and security of Kansans and the relocation of refugees, I will take action to protect Kansans.”

The governor's spokesperson, Eileen Hawley, says the Obama administration hasn’t done enough to answer Brownback's questions about security.

“He has taken the actions he can to protect the security of the state. He feels very strongly that he has been patient and reasonable and made rational requests of the federal government,” Hawley says.

The governor issued an executive order in November barring all state-funded agencies and organizations from participating or assisting in the relocation of Syrian refugees to Kansas; he joined at least 30 other U.S. governors, all but one of them Republican, in working to block Syrian refugees from enter their states.

Refugee resettlement and assistance is handled by the state Department for Children and Families' Economic and Employment Services Division. In fiscal year 2014, 490 refugees were resettled in Kansas, according to data from the State Department. The federally run Refugee Processing Center reports more than 350 refugees arrived in Kansas between October 2015 and the end of March 2016.

The ACLU of Kansas contends refugees are subject to rigorous screening. Micah Kubic, with the ACLU, says this action won’t stop the federal government from settling refugees in Kansas, but it does send a negative message.

“A very loud and very symbolic statement that the state of Kansas has no desire to provide hospitality to those fleeing the worst situations in the world,” Kubic says.

The statute dealing with withdrawal from the federal refugee resettlement program states that Brownback must give 120 days advanced notice to the Office of Refugee Resettlement before withdrawing, and the "Director may authorize a replacement designee or designees to administer the provision of assistance and services, as appropriate, to refugees in that State."

Stephen Koranda is the managing editor of the Kansas News Service, based at KCUR. He has nearly 20 years of experience in public media as a reporter and editor.
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