Before the dust even began to settle from Gov. Greg Abbott’s attacks on Austin over its policies toward homelessness, he’s stirred up more controversy by announcing he’s not going to allow resettlement of refugees in Texas.
Regarding homelessness, the governor scolded Austin, blaming some acts of violence on Austin’s brief relaxation of anti-camping ordinances.
Even as that battle continued, the governor raised more hackles Friday by saying Texas won’t participate in the federal refugee resettlement program this year. He said his decision was due to strained resources in dealing with a “broken federal immigration system.”
His action made Texas the first state to decline to participate in the federal program — an action taken under a new rule established by the administration of President Donald Trump.
The new rule gave states until Jan. 21 to decide whether they would receive refugees. So far, at least 42 states have said they would participate in the program.
Texas historically had resettled more refugees than any other state. But since 2016, the number has dwindled — from about 7,800 in 2016 to about 4,800 the next year, down to 2,458 in 2019.
Officials from some of the state’s largest cities, along with refugee and evangelical Christian groups, wanted Texas to stay in the program. But in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the governor said he “cannot consent to initial refugee resettlement” in 2020.
“This decision does not deny any refugee access to the United States,” Abbott wrote. “Nor does it preclude a refugee from later coming to Texas after initially settling in another state.”
Abbott pointed out to Pompeo that Texas over the past decade has resettled more refugees than any other state — 10 percent of the U.S. total.
But this year, the state can’t continue, Abbott wrote, because Congress has left Texas “to deal with disproportionate migration issues resulting from a broken federal immigration system.”
Texas Democrats criticized Abbott for the decision, including some candidates for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate attending a Saturday joint forum at Green House International Church in Houston put on by six Houston-area Democratic clubs.
Former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston said Abbott’s conclusion that Texas has done enough is not in the state’s best interest.
“Gov. Abbott decided to give our state a giant black eye,” Bell said.
Some major newspaper editorial pages agreed.
The Houston Chronicle said Abbott’s decision to bar refugees “is both shocking and incomprehensible.”
“Abbott should know better. Asylum-seekers and refugees are some of the most heavily vetted individuals who ever seek a home in the United States,” the Chronicle said. “As he noted, Texas has long been a leader in welcoming refugees. In fact, in recent years more refugees have resettled in Houston and Texas than any other city or state in the country.”
“Instead of continuing that proud tradition, Abbott has cut it short — leaving men, women and children, coming from places where they fear for their lives, shut out of a state that might well have instead offered them shelter and a fresh start.
“His decision also deprives cities like Houston of the new residents who might have helped our city grow and prosper, as so many refugees in the past have.”
And, these excerpts from an editorial by The Dallas Morning News:
“It was with some shock and not a little shame that we learned Texas is the first state in the nation to opt out of the federal refugee resettlement program. This is a departure from an American spirit of helping refugees fleeing war and persecution, whether from Vietnam, Cuba, Africa or beyond.
“This is not a question of seeking to enforce border laws, something this newspaper supports.
“This is about creating space for people with clear and approved asylum claims, and we are sorry that in his letter Abbott chose to conflate Texas’ border struggles with the decision to reject refugees ... Recall, of course, that refugees are legal immigrants who have been vetted by the federal government.”
— Dave McNeely is an Austin-based columnist who covers Texas politics. His column appears Thursday.