AUSTIN, Texas – Some Texas lawmakers suggested Tuesday that Syrian refugees take lie-detector tests to weed out potential extremists as state leaders defended suing the U.S. government in so far unsuccessful efforts to keep families fleeing the war-torn country out of the state.
The idea of a polygraph was endorsed as having "value" by Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw, even while he told members of the Texas Legislature that states have no role vetting refugees. One lawmaker pushing for polygraphs compared it to police officers taking lie-detector exams during the hiring process.
"If we can do it for law enforcement to qualify certain law enforcement positons, it may be something we can consider," Democratic state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond said.
He later referred to the two suspects in the San Bernardino attacks, saying "I'm willing to bet those two people in California wouldn't have wanted to take the polygraph." Neither Tashfeen Malik, a Pakistani woman, nor her husband were refugees.
Nearly 30 governors across the U.S. have vowed to block Syrian refugees since the Paris attacks last month. But no state has taken as aggressive a stance as Texas, which took the Obama administration to court earlier this month over claims that federal officials and resettlement agencies haven't shared information about arriving refugees.
U.S. District Judge David Godbey last week refused to immediately block resettlements in Texas. He said talk of extremists possibly infiltrating Syrian refugees were based on "largely speculative hearsay" submitted by Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner Chris Traylor said his office has sought names and ages of refugees being resettled in Texas. Resettlement agencies have said that information has been provided.
Texas' lawsuit has so far failed to turn back 21 Syrian refugees, many of them children and teenagers, who resettled in Houston and Dallas last week. Traylor said more could be on the way, though none are expected to arrive within the next few weeks.
Some Republicans on the panel said the refugees take a toll on the communities where they resettle, from children enrolling in schools to hospital emergency room visits. Heather Reynolds, president of Catholic Charities, told lawmakers that 96 percent of her refugees are off assistance within six months.
"They're not coming here to get welfare assistance. They're leaving because they have no choice," Democratic state Rep. Elliot Naishtat said.