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Amarillo balks at more Mideast refugees

By   /   January 11, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

AP photo

ASSIMILATING? The YMCA in Amarillo hosts Somalis celebrating Muslim rites.

As Texas officials spar with Obama administration lawyers over refugee resettlement, Amarillo is building Muslim “ghettos.”

Under federal refugee programs, the North Texas town has become home to more than 1,000 Mideast migrants – giving Amarillo the highest refugee ratio in the country.

“Our education system is overloaded with kids who can’t speak English. We have something like 22 languages spoken in our schools,” said William Sumerford, a local taxpayer activist.

City Commissioner Randy Burkett is considering a plan to halt further refugee settlements. Burkett could not be reached, but Mayor Paul Harpole isn’t optimistic about the city’s authority to push back.

“We’ve been a giving community, and it’s a huge disservice to bring in refugees in numbers that we’re not able to handle. We create small ghettos,” Harpole told

“A group of Somalis came in to say they had elected a mayor of their community,” Harpole related. “Then another faction claimed they had their own leader. We come to find out that rival tribes — slaves and masters — were being settled together.”

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission last month sued the federal government and the nonprofit International Rescue Committee, asserting the Refugee Act of 1980 requires Washington to “consult regularly” with state and local officials before resettling refugees.

The Justice Department responded that Texas was trying to exert veto power “over individual federal refugee resettlement decisions” by banning Syrian refugees.

“Federal law requires the Obama administration to work with Texas in the refugee resettling process,” Katherine Wise, spokeswoman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, told “The response by the Obama administration makes it clear that it has no intention of cooperating with us.”

The situation heated up last week when two Iraqi refugees were arrested in Houston and Sacramento during an ISIS terrorism investigation.

U.S. House of Representatives photo

SECURITY CHECK: Rep. Brian Babin’s bill to halt President Obama’s refugee program was buried in Congress.

“This serves as yet another wake-up call to anyone who has doubts about the real and imminent threat we face from Obama’s dangerous and reckless refugee policies,” said U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, R-Baytown.

Babin in July introduced HR 3314 to suspend the refugee resettlement program pending a cost analysis by the Government Accountability Office and a national security risk assessment.

The FBI, the director of National Intelligence and the department of Homeland Security testified that they cannot fully screen the administration’s initial allotment of 10,000 refugees from Syria, Somalia, Iraq and other regions with high rates of terrorism.

The Republican-controlled Congress ignored Babin’s bill and approved a $100 million increase for refugee resettlement.

Detailed information about refugees is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain because the federal government runs its refugee program through faith-based contractors exempt from Freedom of Information Act provisions.

In Amarillo, Sumerford said local services are being stretched by refugees. Police say crime is a chronic problem in the resettlement enclaves. The city currently fields 911 calls in 42 different languages.

“Hospitals, welfare, police, you name it, are strained. That all comes back on our city budget,” Sumerford said.

Mayor Harpole said the city’s schools are particularly hard hit.

“We have 660 (refugee) kids who don’t speak English and the U.S. Department of Education says they have to be at grade level within one year. It’s a ludicrous requirement — they don’t even know how to use the bathroom,” Harpole said. Washington pays schools $100 per refugee student per year.

Commissioner Burkett is looking to pattern a refugee blockade after a League City ordinance. On July 8, that city voted to block child refugees by “any manner necessary.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is investigating whether League City is in compliance with nondiscrimination laws.

RELATED: Texas collides with cities, agencies on Syrian refugees

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, blasted fellow Republicans for passing a year-end funding bill that enables the Obama administration to ride roughshod over local communities.

“The Omnibus approves — without conditions — the president’s request for increased refugee admissions, allowing him to bring in as many refugees as he wants, from anywhere he wants, and then allow them to access unlimited amounts of welfare and entitlements at taxpayer expense,” Sessions charged.

“This will ensure that at least 170,000 green card, refugee and asylum approvals are issued to migrants from Muslim countries over just the next 12 months.”

Texas Reps. Mike McCaul, R-Austin, and Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, have also called for tightening or halting the Syrian refugee program.

Kenric Ward writes for the Texas Bureau of Contact him at [email protected]. @Kenricward


Kenric Ward is the San Antonio-based reporter for A California native and veteran journalist who has worked on three Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers, he received a BA from UCLA (Political Science/Phi Beta Kappa) and holds an MBA. He reported and edited at the San Jose Mercury News and the Las Vegas Sun before joining in 2012 and previously reported from Virginia. Kenric can be reached at [email protected]