NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
ALERT: KERA News 90.1 is performing essential tower maintenance which may disrupt our over-the-air signal between July 12-14. Click here for the KERA News stream, or listen on our app or smart speakers with no disruption. Thanks for your patience!

Gov. Abbott Says Texas Will Not Accept New Refugees

Gov. Greg Abbott
Christopher Connelly
Gov. Greg Abbott

Gov. Greg Abbott has told the U.S. State Department Texas will not accept refugees in the 2020 fiscal year.

In a letter dated Jan. 10, Abbott tells U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, “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.”

Abbott also said Texas has a history of welcoming many refugees over the years but cited the current immigration crisis as a drain on the state’s resources and the reason it can not accept refugees this fiscal year.

“Texas has been left by Congress to deal with disproportionate migration issues resulting from a broken federal immigration system,” Abbott said. “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.” 

An executive order issued by President Trump last year requires local and state governments to provide written consent for refugee resettlement in their jurisdiction. The executive order also cut the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S. by nearly half.

Abbott is the first governor to opt out of the refugee resettlement program. Governors in 42 other states have said they will consent to allowing in more refugees, according to the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

Local Officials And Nonprofits React

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price sent a letter to Abbott in late November asking that he give written consent to allow refugees to continue to resettle in the city and the state.

In response to the governor’s decision Price said she was sure he thought carefully about what it means for Texas. 

“Our refugee families in Fort Worth are an incredibly important part of the diverse fabric throughout our community,” she said in a statement. “I am thankful they call Fort Worth home and we will continue to provide support to those residents alongside our valuable non-profit partners, community members, and faith communities.”

In December, Dallas County Commissioners passed a resolution also asking Abbott continue to allow refugees to resettle in the state.

Refugees International CEO Eric Schwartz said Abbott's announcement is "more politics than about policy."

"In light of the very low national refugee ceiling of 18,000 announced by the Trump administration, the number of refugees resettled in Texas would have been very small," Schwartz said in a statement.

Texas technically has not been resettling people in the past few years. In 2016, the state officially withdrew from the federal program and left the work to nonprofits, like Refugee Services of Texas.

The organization’s CEO Russell Smith said he was “saddened and disappointed” by the move.

“The decision by Gov. Abbott also comes at a time the world is experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis in modern history,” Smith said in a statement. “Now is not the time to abandon Texas’ historic role in refugee resettlement; rather, this is a time to renew our commitment.”

Interfaith Action of Central Texas is another group that provides services, including English classes, to new refugees. Executive Director Simone Talma Flowers called Abbott's decision “totally unacceptable.”

“I am very upset,” she said. “This is shameful. This is disgusting. I am saddened. It is just absolutely awful.”

Because Texas has resettled so many refugees in the past several years, blocking new arrivals will likely affect families already here and hoping to be reunified.

Flowers said it is somewhat unclear whether local governments will have the ability to accept refugees, even if state leaders don’t.  

“We are waiting to hear more about what happens next,” she said. “But immediately this is very upsetting for Texas to be saying ‘no’ to refugees.”

Updated at 4:46 p.m.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Gabrielle Jones has a passion for serving diverse audiences. She is the Audience Editor at KERA in Dallas, Texas.
Ashley Lopez joined KUT in January 2016. She covers politics and health care, and is part of the NPR-Kaiser Health News reporting collaborative. Previously she worked as a reporter at public radio stations in Louisville, Ky.; Miami and Fort Myers, Fla., where she won a National Edward R. Murrow Award.