Syrian refugees resettled in resistant Texas, Indiana

AP News
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Posted: Dec 09, 2015 12:33 AM
Syrian refugees resettled in resistant Texas, Indiana

DALLAS (AP) — Syrian families have been settled in Texas and in Indiana, the groups helping them said Tuesday, defying efforts by the conservative states' governors to stop their arrival.

A family of six went to live Monday near relatives already living in the Dallas area, said Lucy Carrigan, a spokeswoman for the International Rescue Committee.

"They seem very happy," Carrigan said, noting that they were put up in an apartment with basic furniture and a stocked refrigerator. "And it was almost like breathing a sigh of relief that they have arrived. This has been a long journey for them, and it's been a long journey for a lot of Syrian refugees."

Carrigan declined to make family members available for an interview, but she said they were not fazed by the state's fight or concerns that they might not be welcome in Texas.

Another couple and their four daughters were settled in Houston on Monday night by a different resettlement agency, Refugee Services of Texas. An additional nine refugees are expected to arrive later in the week.

"We can reassure all Texans that the refugees are receiving a warm and compassionate welcome from staff and volunteers," said Aaron Rippenkroeger, president and CEO of Refugee Services of Texas.

Meanwhile, a Syrian couple and their two small children arrived safely Monday night in Indianapolis, where they have relatives, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis said in a statement. It said the family fled Syria three years ago and underwent two years of security checks before being allowed to enter the U.S.

Archbishop Joseph Tobin said he considered Gov. Mike Pence's recent request to not bring the family to Indiana until Congress had approved new legislation regarding immigrants and refugees. But he said he welcomed them anyway because helping refugees "is an essential part of our identity as Catholic Christians."

Pence and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott were among more than two dozen Republican governors who said they would refuse any new Syrian refugees following the deadly Nov. 13 Paris attacks, which have been linked to the Islamic State group operating in Syria.

The debate over immigration has only become more charged since then, with Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump drawing widespread condemnation for suggesting all Muslims should be barred from entering the country.

Pence, who said he hoped residents would welcome the new family to Indiana, despite his misgivings about the vetting process, rebuked Trump on Twitter Tuesday, saying calls to ban Muslims "are offensive and unconstitutional."

Pence said the issue is not about the Syrian refugee family that arrived in Indiana or about Catholic Charities, but "about an administration and Congress that should take decisive action to pause this program."

But Pence indicated he wouldn't try to deny Medicaid, food stamps or other social services to any refugees who do arrive in Indiana.

Abbott, meanwhile, was in Washington with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to support a bill Cruz will introduce allowing governors to reject any refugees they deem to be a security risk.

Federal officials and refugee agencies have ignored the governors' calls to halt resettlement, saying states are denying a safe haven to families displaced by war and that a state's role in resettlement does not include the authority to block them.

Texas has taken in more refugees than any other state in the last five years, including about 250 Syrian refugees. But it also fought harder than any other state to stop the inflow of Syrian refugees after the attacks.

Texas' health commissioner sent letters to refugee resettlement agencies threatening them with the loss of state cooperation if they continued to bring in Syrians. The state then filed a lawsuit against the IRC and the federal government.

The state has since backed down from an immediate demand to halt the arrival of Syrian refugees. A hearing is expected in the lawsuit next week.

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Slodysko reported from Indianapolis. Associated Press writers Tom Davies in Indianapolis and Juan A. Lozano in Houston contributed to this report.