Politics & Government

Gov. Sam Brownback: Kansas withdrawing from federal refugee resettlement program

Gov. Sam Brownback is withdrawing Kansas from the federal refugee resettlement program, citing security concerns. (2015)
Gov. Sam Brownback is withdrawing Kansas from the federal refugee resettlement program, citing security concerns. (2015) Associated Press

Gov. Sam Brownback is withdrawing Kansas from the federal refugee resettlement program, citing security concerns. But federal officials will continue to place refugees in the state.

Brownback, who had already issued executive orders barring state agencies from cooperating in the resettlement of refugees from Syria and other countries, met with officials from the State Department, Department of Homeland Security and the National Counter-Terrorism Center on April 19 to discuss his concerns about the vetting process.

“Because the federal government has failed to provide adequate assurances regarding refugees it is settling in Kansas, we have no option but to end our cooperation with and participation in the federal refugee resettlement program,” Brownback said in a statement Tuesday.

Because the federal government has failed to provide adequate assurances regarding refugees it is settling in Kansas, we have no option but to end our cooperation with … the federal refugee resettlement program.

Gov. Sam Brownback

But that decision will have “no effect on the placement of refugees by the State Department in Kansas,” the federal Administration for Children and Families told Kansas officials earlier this month in documents released by Brownback’s office.

That agency said it would work directly with local refugee resettlement agencies.

The state receives about $2.2 million annually in federal aid for refugee resettlement and support services. That money is used to provide medical and other benefits for refugees and to fund grants for refugee resettlement agencies.

The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement will decide how the resettlement program “will move forward in Kansas,” said Theresa Freed, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Children and Families, which now assists in resettlement.

$2.2 millionin federal aid goes to state annually for refugee resettlement

354 refugeeshave resettled in Kansas since October

13 Syrianshave resettled in Kansas since January 2015

A total of 354 refugees from all countries have resettled in Kansas since October, through three resettlement agencies – International Rescue Committee, the Episcopal Wichita Area Refugee Ministry and Catholic Charities.

Brownback’s opposition to refugee resettlement stems largely from concerns over President Obama’s decision to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees, who are fleeing civil war, in the United States.

Thirteen Syrian refugees have resettled in Kansas since January of last year, all in the Wichita or Kansas City metro areas, Freed said.

Jennifer Sime, senior vice president for U.S. programs at the International Rescue Committee, said in an e-mail that Brownback’s “claim that Kansans’ security is at risk is absolutely false. Refugees are subject to a range of rigorous and thorough security checks. … The vetting system has been methodically structured to both safeguard the security of the U.S. and provide protection to those who need it most, and to whom we have a moral obligation to protect.”

(Brownback’s) claim that Kansans’ security is at risk is absolutely false. Refugees are subject to a range of rigorous and thorough security checks.

Jennifer Sime, senior vice president for U.S. Programs at the International Rescue Committee

Sime said the International Rescue Committee “will step up and ensure that refugee families continue to receive the protection and services they are entitled to.”

Kansas is the first state to withdraw from the program because of security concerns with the vetting process, said Eileen Hawley, the governor’s spokeswoman. “The problem is if there are gaps in information. These are failed states for the most part. And so people come in without really the paper trail.”

Brownback’s decision to withdraw from the program “means that the state of Kansas has said as an official act that it does not want to participate in providing hospitality to people escaping religious persecution and political persecution and humanitarian crises,” said Micah Kubic, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Kansas.

He noted that Brownback was a champion for refugee resettlement as a member of the U.S. Senate.

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, called the state’s withdrawal “a political move to distract us from the fact that we’re sitting on a $290 million deficit.” The budget shortfall was announced six days ago.

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3

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