Syrian refugees (Photo credit: Lynsey Addario/NYT)
On September 26, 2019, President Trump signed Executive Order 13888 requiring federal refugee resettlement agencies to get written consent from state and local officials in any jurisdiction where they want to resettle refugees beyond June 2020. As the Executive Order on Enhancing State and Local Involvement in Refugee Resettlement stipulates:
In resettling refugees into American communities, it is the policy of the United States to cooperate and consult with State and local governments, to take into account the preferences of State governments, and to provide a pathway for refugees to become self-sufficient.
Not only must the Federal Government consult with State and local governments, they must be “be respectful of those communities that may not be able to accommodate refugee resettlement” because State and local governments are best positioned to know the resources and capacities they may or may not have available to devote to sustainable resettlement.
Trump’s executive order also cut the number of refugees allowed into the country for the 2020 fiscal year to a historic low of 18,000. About 30,000 refugees were resettled in the U.S. during the previous fiscal year.
Texas has large refugee populations in several of its cities and has long been a leader in settling refugees, taking in more than any other state during the 2018 governmental fiscal year, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Since the 2002 fiscal year, Texas has resettled an estimated 88,300 refugees, second only to California, according to the Pew Research Center.
Danielle Wallace reports for Fox News that yesterday, Texas became the first state to opt out of the federal refugee resettlement program — a move made possible by Trump’s executive order.
In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Texas’ Republican Gov. Greg Abbott says Texas “has carried more than its share” in refugee resettlement. Since FY 2010, Texas has taken in more refugees than any other state — about 10% of all refugees resettled in the United States. But in accepting and resettling those refugees, Texas has had no help from the federal government, but “has been left by Congress to deal with disproportionate migration issues resulting from a broken federal immigration system.”
In addition, Abbott pointed out that, according to federal numbers, about 100,000 migrants have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border into Texas since May 2018, who included migrants from China, Iran, Kenya, Russia and Tonga.
Citing “a responsibility to dedicate available resources to those who are already here,” including refugees, migrants, the homeless, and “all Texans,” Abbott says Texas “cannot consent to initial refugee resettlement for FY 2020.” But Texas’ opting out of the initial refugee resettlement program for the 2020 fiscal year does not deny any refugee access to the U.S., nor does it prevent any refugee from later coming to Texas after initially settling in another state.
However, the Democrat mayors of major Texas metropolitan areas, including San Antonio, Dallas and Houston, sent the federal government letters saying they remain willing to welcome refugees despite the state action. As an example, Democrat mayor of Houston Sylvester Turner said in a statement: “Regardless of where someone is from, who they are or what they believe, there is a home for them in Houston. Our welcoming spirit has led to our city becoming the national leader in refugee resettlement.”
Governors in 42 other states have said they will consent to allowing in more refugees, according to the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which works with local agencies throughout the U.S. to resettle refugees. The governors not yet on the record are all Republicans — from Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina and Wyoming.
Abbott’s letter enraged Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Somali immigrant, who earlier in the week had decried a similar move by county-level officials in her home state of Minnesota that was also facilitated by Trump’s executive order. Omar tweeted the Statue of Liberty’s “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,” and vowed “We shall overcome!”.
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