Refugee Resettlement Programs Allow Public Health Screenings

Testimony by Geoffrey Erwin, MD

Senate Veteran Affairs and Border Security
Senate Bill 260 by Sen. Huffines
Texas Medical Association

March 29, 2017

Good afternoon, Chair Campbell and members of the committee. My name is Dr. Geoffrey Erwin. I am an obstetrician and gynecologist, and I am representing the more than 50,000 physician and medical students of the Texas Medical Association (TMA). TMA appreciates the opportunity to provide comments on Senate Bill 260 by Sen. Don Huffines that abolishes the Office of Immigration and Refugee Affairs and the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Immigration and Refugees. TMA is opposed to SB 260 because of our deep concern that Texas needs dedicated, informed public personnel and private citizens with expertise on the issues of immigration and refugee affairs in Texas. 

Texas has long been a leader in federal and state efforts to support refugees — predominantly women and children — and Texas physicians have worked in their communities to provide for the health care needs of refugees who come to our state. Physicians need for Texas to maintain a strong structure to coordinate services for children and families who flee violence and persecution in their countries. We were disappointed in the state’s decision to opt out of the Federal Refugee Resettlement Program at the end of 2016 due to the complications this presents our public health system.

TMA physicians voluntarily responded to the unprecedented events during the summer of 2014, when thousands of unaccompanied minors and families entered Texas without legal documentation. For many weeks, dozens of physicians from across the state worked with local charitable organizations and other volunteers and public health officials to provide health screening for arriving children and adults. This was a public health crisis.

Our members also serve legal refugees who settle in diverse communities across the state. These include victims of human trafficking, who, along with many other refugees residing in Texas, have suffered great trauma. This is a particular concern for young children and adolescents, whose traumatic experiences in early life are likely to affect their physical and mental health into adulthood. As you know, management of mental health issues is complex and can be even more costly if not addressed as early as possible.  

We understand the state’s responsibility for addressing public safety and security, but Texas can be confident in the effectiveness and management of the state’s refugee resettlement activities. The state’s office of refugee resettlement has performed well. We have a long-established public/private partnership that has been working for decades in dozens of Texas communities to help resettle  refugees. As our federal government seeks to address public concerns with refugee programs, we encourage you to retain the state structure for refugee resettlement in anticipation of reorganizing  these activities and provide needed public health leadership and coordination.

We urge you to oppose Senate Bill 260, and we stand ready to work with the chair and this committee on future immigration and refugee resettlement public health efforts.

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Last Updated On

March 30, 2017

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