Progressive politicians, refugee advocates, and human rights groups swiftly condemned Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's announcement on Friday that Texas will no longer accept the resettlement of new refugees—a move enabled by an executive order President Donald Trump signed in September.
"This is not what America is supposed to be about. Under my administration we will not turn our backs on refugees."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
Along with slashing the refugee cap for the 2020 fiscal year to a record low of 18,000, Trump issued an order requiring the federal government to get written consent from states and localities prior to resettling refugees. In response to that order, Abbott sent a letter (pdf) to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo informing him that "Texas cannot consent to initial refugee resettlement for FY2020."
Abbott, who noted that the decision does not deny refugees access to the United States or bar refugees from moving to Texas after initially settling elsewhere, said that approximately 10% of all refugees in the U.S. have settled in his state over the past decade. The governor wrote that "in addition to accepting refugees all these years, Texas has been left by Congress to deal with disproportionate migration issues resulting from a broken federal immigration system."
RAICES, the largest immigration legal services nonprofit in Texas, charged in a series of tweets that Abbott's move was "prompted by xenophobia and fear," and that "there's absolutely no reason for this decision."
The need to provide safe haven for refugees has never been higher.
Under the guidance of Einas Albadri, our Refugee Resettlement program welcomed over 400 people since '17.
This is in jeopardy with Abbott's decision.
Join us in speaking out in support of this critical program. pic.twitter.com/J5QABaFWca
— RAICES (@RAICESTEXAS) January 10, 2020
"We've an important announcement to share on Monday that will make Abbott regret this," RAICES added. "Stay tuned..."
Julián Castro—a former Democratic presidential candidate and mayor of San Antonio—took to Twitter Friday to forcefully speak out against the Abbott's political track record and recent decision about refugees. According to Castro: "Governor Abbott has targeted the homeless, scapegoated immigrants and refugees, and handed out blank checks to big corporations. His fear-mongering doesn't represent our state."
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a leading candidate in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race, called the governor's decision "utterly shameful." The White House hopeful tweeted that "this is not what America is supposed to be about. Under my administration we will not turn our backs on refugees."
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Putting the development into a national context, the Associated Press reported:
Governors in 42 other states have said they will consent to allowing in more refugees, according to the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service [LIRS], which works with local agencies throughout the U.S. to resettle refugees. The governors who haven't chimed in are all Republicans and are from Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Wyoming.
Fierce debates have occurred in several parts of the country, including North Dakota and Tennessee, over whether to opt into refugee resettlement under the executive order. Many Republican governors have been caught between immigration hardliners and some Christian evangelicals who believe helping refugees is a moral obligation.
LIRS is also part of a lawsuit challenging the order. A federal judge on Wednesday heard arguments on a request by resettlement agencies to prevent the Trump administration from enforcing it.
Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, LIRS president and CEO, said in a statement responding to Abbott's letter: "This is a deeply disappointing decision—although not surprising given Texas' previous but unsuccessful opposition to refugee resettlement a few years ago. This is precisely why we filed a lawsuit against President Trump's unlawful executive order and we are confident that justice will be served—allowing children and families who have been waiting in desperation for years to be reunited with their family in Texas."
"This is precisely why we filed a lawsuit against President Trump's unlawful executive order and we are confident that justice will be served—allowing children and families who have been waiting in desperation for years to be reunited with their family in Texas."
—Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, LIRS
Highlighting her group's work with Houston, Dallas, and Fort Worth communities, she added that "historically, Texas has served as a beacon of hope for refugees from across the globe, having resettled the highest number of any state." Those communities and others across the state are not able to override the decision of the governor and take in new refugees.
"It is shameful that the state is once again trying to illegally reverse this legacy of welcome and compassion now," O'Mara Vignarajah said. "We will continue to coordinate with our partners on the ground in Texas. There are simply too many lives hanging in the balance to give up now."
The governor's letter also elicited strong condemnation from Jennifer Sime, senior vice president of resettlement, asylum, and Integration at the International Rescue Committee. In a statement, she said that "Gov. Abbott's decision to opt out of the U.S. refugee resettlement program is as shameful as it is out of touch."
"It is out of touch with Texas's tradition of welcome. Out of touch with 42 governors across the country who approved resettlement, and out of touch with the business community that needs refugees. This is not good for refugees and it is not good for Texas," she added.
Sime warned that "in addition to making refugees' lives harder, Texas now forfeits the opportunity for a growing business community that depends on refugees. It forfeits the cultural contributions, the growth, and ingenuity the state has come to enjoy through resettling refugees."