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2016-06-30

Are Syrian refugees already here? No one knows & no one’s talking

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

For weeks, rumors have circulated that Syrian refugees are being housed in Bandera and surrounding counties.
On the face of it, the speculation seemed outlandish – except for the fact that a similar act occurred earlier in Bandera County and, not surprisingly, local officials and authorities knew nothing about it.
Back-story
On August 21, 2014, information came to light that unaccompanied illegal immigrant minors were being housed in Bandera County. The county had apparently been used as a repository for some of the waves of undocumented and unaccompanied minor children, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, who had poured across the Texas-Mexico border that spring.
During an August meeting of commissioners court, County Judge Richard Evans revealed that undocumented and unaccompanied minors had been housed in summer camps located throughout Bandera County.
Evans noted that approximately 500 children from Central America had been relocated to Bandera County – without prior notice to elected officials or law enforcement – to await deportation hearings. “It came as a complete surprise to us and raises serious security and health issues,” Evans said. “This is not an acceptable situation.”
The housing situation was discovered only after administrators with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) contacted Sheriff Daniel “Dan” Butts to ask if his officers could provide security for the camps.
“It appears that DPS officers were needed on the border and could no longer cover the security slots at the summer camps,” Butts said in an earlier interview. “That’s when we first heard that the children were being housed in the county.”
The unaccompanied minor children had reportedly arrived in Bandera County in February, but by the last week in May, all minors had been transported to a detention facility at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
No answers
forthcoming
In light of the secretive nature of procuring accommodations for the undocumented children, it would not be a stretch that Syrian refugees were currently being housed in the county. However, it is virtually impossible to have questions about the rumors answered by simply questioning governmental agencies involved in the oversight of such a program.
Three weeks ago, the rumor was brought to the attention of the Courier from a business owner in Medina. She reported “two busloads of Syrian refugees had arrived in Medina during the wee hours of the morning of Wednesday, June 8, or Thursday, June 9.”
Another part of the puzzle arrived just a week later. In March or April, a restaurateur reported seeing – on two separate occasions – two buses go through Medina at 2 am doing 25 or 30 mph.
“They were tourist-type buses and were painted white with blacked-out windows. Something was written on the buses, but I couldn’t tell what,” the man, who preferred not to be identified, reported. Additionally, he said the vehicles did not turn onto FM 337, but instead continued up Highway 16 North. Interestingly, the vehicles used to transport the undocumented minors two years ago were contract tour buses.
Enter Rep. Smith
After being queried by the Courier, neither Evans nor Butts said they had knowledge of Syrian refugees being housed in the county. To learn more, Evans contacted Mike Asmus, who serves as district director in San Antonio for Congressman Lamar Smith.
In turn, Asmus reached out through a back channel to the person who had originally contracted to house undocumented immigrant children in Bandera County two years ago. According to Asmus, however, that individual had not been asked by government officials to find suitable housing for Syrian refugees. Asmus continues to investigate.
Additionally, a local attorney has filed a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request with the Department of Homeland Security seeking information on possible Syrian refugees being relocated to the Hill County, Bandera County in particular.
The plot thickened on Thursday, June 23, when James McGroarty, owner of the 11th Street Cowboy Bar, posted this on social media: “Tell me this is not True! Just received a call that the first busload of Syrian refugees have just arrived in Bandera County! Twenty-four young men from Syria to be housed in Medina, Texas, at the state-run Medina Children’s Home (Haven for Hope)!
“This is supposed to be the start of the Syrian relocation plan of the Obama administration to place Syrian refugees throughout the continental United States in all state-run properties.”
A reliable – but anonymous – source reached out to staff at the Children’s Home, who assured him the social media rumor was not true. “I tend to believe them because I talked to the ‘worker bees,’ who know everything, rather than to administrative officials who would tend to be closed-mouth about a government program paying big bucks!”
In an interview, McGroarty himself noted that he considered the rumor to be false. Additionally, Haven for Hope is not supported by the State of Texas, but rather on donations and grants.
Feds okayed refugee resettling
On June 16, a federal court dismissed Texas’ effort to block the federal government and a nonprofit relief organization from resettling Syrian refugees in the state.
Regarding the ruling, Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said, “With this ruling, the court unequivocally confirms that no state — not even Texas — can ban the resettlement of refugees based upon their nationality. This kind of discrimination is not only unconstitutional, but it’s also an affront to Texas’ values of equality and hospitality.”
Coincidentally on that same date, CIA Director John Brennan testified before Congress, saying that terrorist organizations are attempting to move their operatives into the United State using many tactics – including through refugee resettlement.
In response to refugee resettlement taking place in Texas, several weeks ago Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Charles Smith contacted the United States Department of State.
In a letter, Charles Smith informed the federal government that Texas will not agree to increase the number of refugees coming into the state. Additionally, he noted that the 2017 State Plan for the Refugee Program has been written to ensure Texas only accepts refugees who have been fully vetted and do not present a security threat.
Letter to State Department
“Texas continues to have concerns about the safety of its citizens and the integrity of the overseas security and background vetting process of the federal resettlement program,” Charles Smith wrote in the letter, dated June 17. “Americans face an undeniable terrorist threat that is imported through new manipulations of our national security protocols each day.”
The 2017 State Plan was developed to reflect that Texas would only accept refugees who the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence can certify to Congress do not pose a security threat to the state.
The State Department has proposed that the number of refugees coming into the state in 2017 be increased by 25 percent. Charles Smith informed the feds that Texas would only accept the same amount of refugees who are placed here this year. Any increase, Smith wrote, would pose a heavy financial burden on communities in Texas.
The new state plan will take effect at the beginning of the 2017 federal fiscal year, which starts on Oct. 1, 2016.
Letter to prez
On Friday, June 24, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Congressman Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, co-signed a letter to President Barack Obama with. The letter requested his support for requiring top law enforcement and intelligence officials to certify that admitted refugees are not a threat.
“I’m happy to join Chairman McCaul in calling on President Obama to help us protect the safety and security of Texans,” said Patrick. “Allowing thousands of Iraqi and Syrian refugees into Texas without careful security and coordination with state officials is dangerous.”
Last October, Patrick asked the Senate Health and Human Services Committee to study the impact of the increasing number of refugees relocating to Texas, as well as the state’s ability to mitigate the burden of providing state-funded services.
On Monday, June 27, the Courier received a call from the owner of a summer camp, who is being telephonically harassed by “a woman from Medina,” who insists that the camp is housing Syrian refugees. The Courier has contacted the an administrator with the sheriff’s office, who indicated that if harassment of owners of any summer camps within the county continues, an investigation would be opened and charges filed.