Read more about InAlienable.Support Quixote Center’s InAlienable program!
January 13, 2020
The Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, announced on Friday that Texas would not participate in refugee resettlement during the 2020 fiscal year. In doing so, Abbott made Texas the first (and thus only state) to refuse to resettle refugees. Abbott’s argument was basically that Texas has done its fair share and now it’s time for other states to step up. From the Hill,
Abbott noted in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Texas has accepted more refugees than any other state since fiscal year 2010 on top of grappling with “disproportionate migration issues resulting from a broken federal immigration system.”
“At this time, the state and nonprofit organizations have a responsibility to dedicate available resources to those who are already here, including refugees, migrants, and the homeless — indeed, all Texans,” Abbott wrote.
“As a result, Texas cannot consent to initial refugee resettlement for FY2020.”
Abbot clarified that the policy does not preclude any refugee from later coming to Texas after initially settling in another state.
“Texas has carried more than its share in assisting the refugee resettlement process and appreciates that other states are available to help with these efforts,” he wrote.
By Texas, Abbott mostly means Houston, which in recent years has taken more refugees than any other city in the country. From the Houston Chronicle in 2017:
Though all 50 states have accepted some refugees, Texas typically takes about 10.5 percent of the national total, according to U.S. State Department numbers. More of them come to the Houston area than to anywhere else in Texas. In fiscal year 2014, the state health services department reported, nearly 30 percent of Texas' refugees landed in Harris County.
Taken together, this data means that Harris County alone welcomes about 25 of every 1,000 refugees that the U.N. resettles anywhere in the world — more than any other American city, and more than most other nations. If Greater Houston were a country, it would rank fourth in the world for refugee resettlement.
And the thing is, if Houston were a country - it would still be accepting refugees, because Abbott doesn’t speak for the city at all. As is often the case with immigration policy, the people who most strongly oppose immigration live in areas that are the least affected by it. And Abbott, like reactionaries all over the country, speak for them. They speak to the fear of the unknown that is the milieu in which Trump and his ilk weave their narratives of hate.
Because Houston has received many refugees over the years, there is an infrastructure in place to assist with resettlement. This infrastructure has been weakened nationally, as the number of refugees resettled has continued to fall under Trump - this year only 18,000 refugees are to be resettled. However, there are few other places in the country as equipped to handle resettlement, and while I would never claim to speak for all of Houston, certainly most of us here see refugees as more of a benefit to the city than a burden.
So why now? Well Donald Trump issued an executive order in September that required states and localities to affirmatively opt-in to refugee resettlement programs by January 21. Over thirty states have opted in, Texas just became the only one to opt out - though it will likely not be the last. Even if a state opts in, local governments can opt out. But, as of last week, only two counties have done so; one in North Dakota and the other in Minnesota.
Trump’s executive order is being challenged in federal court. As we discussed last week, there was a vigil and demonstration at the District Court in Greenbelt, MD January 8 which was hearing the case. Short of an injunction in the next week or so, however, the policy will get enacted, even if it is ultimately overturned. Certainly in Texas a conversation about opting back into the program will become much harder than Abbott’s unilateral decision to opt out.
Creating these polarizing conversations is the point, of course. To be a refugee or other immigrant during an election year in this country is tough, because at that point you have become a symbol, not a person. Trump has created this divide. He has done so by attacking authorized routes to immigration. He has done nothing at all to address unauthorized migration other than to make it more likely by shutting down every legal path possible. This is politics in the age of spectacle: image over substance, appearance over reality.