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Texas Directs Faith-Based Organizations to Violate Federal Law

General Counsel/Director of Government Affairs

Today, Texas Impact delivered a letter to the Health and Human Service Commission (HHSC) expressing "shock and dismay" that the agency would direct local volunteer agencies, many of whom are faith-based organizations, to violate federal law.  

HHSC this week issued a directive instructed those organizations with "any active plans to resettle Syrian refugees" to "discontinue those plans immediately."  It also instructed those organizations to "notify us immediately if, in the future, you learn that a Syrian refugee is proposed for resettlement in Texas." 

Section 1522(5) of Title 8 of the United States Code states "assistance and services funded under this section shall be provided to refugees without regard to race, religion, nationality, sex or political opinion."  Faith-based organizations must decide whether to violate federal law or risk HHSC's warning that after "amendments to the state plan are finalized," they may amend state contracts with those organizations.

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The text of Texas Impact's letter is reproduced below:

November 20, 2015

Commissioner Chris Traylor
Texas Health and Human Services Commission
4900 North Lamar, Austin, Texas 78751

Dear Commissioner Traylor,

On behalf of Texas Impact’s board of directors, I am writing to express shock and dismay regarding your letter to local refugee resettlement agencies. In your letter, you direct these agencies to inform HHSC of any information they have relating to potential or planned resettlement of Syrian refugees in Texas, and to refuse to participate in such resettlement. You require the agencies to respond by 4pm on Friday, November 20.

HHSC’s action constitutes an unprecedented attempt on the part of a state agency to pressure private, nonprofit organizations to violate federal law and their federal contractual obligations.

In your letter, you reference 8 U.S. Code § 1522(a)(1)(B)(iii). This section of the law states: “local voluntary agency activities should be conducted in close cooperation and advance consultation with state and local governments.”

However, the activities which local agencies are conducting “in close cooperation and advance consultation with [the] state” are required under 8 U.S. Code § 1522 Sec. 6 to “meet standards, goals, and priorities, developed by the Director, which assure the effective resettlement of refugees and which promote their economic self-sufficiency as quickly as possible and the efficient provision of services.”

8 U.S. Code § 1522 Sec. 5 requires that “Assistance and services funded under this section shall be provided to refugees without regard to race, religion, nationality, sex, or political opinion.”

Plainly, HHSC is demanding that local resettlement agencies violate federal law by engaging in illegal discrimination.  Furthermore, the letter hints that failure to violate federal laws and contractual obligations could impact their receipt of future allocations of federal funds from HHSC. We cannot imagine how any organization could contemplate complying with HHSC’s directive without first obtaining legal counsel.

We request in the strongest terms that HHSC convene a meeting with representatives of the organizations that received the letter, the leaders of their respective faith traditions, their attorneys, and the appropriate federal authorities to clarify HHSC’s authority to issue such a directive and the meaning of the statement that the agency’s review of the Refugee Resettlement State Plan “could result in an amendment to your local contract."

Texas Impact stands ready to assist HHSC in convening such a meeting as soon as possible, including reaching out to the necessary religious leaders and denominational attorneys. Please let me know if I can provide you with any additional information.


Bee Moorhead

Cc: Hon. Greg Abbott; Hon. Dan Patrick ; Hon. Joe Straus

Image © Radekprocyk | - People In Refugee Camp Photo

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