Kriston Capps February 5, 2020
Governor Greg Abbott says that Texas can’t afford to take in more refugees and other new arrivals. Mayors and resettlement experts say otherwise.
When Texas Governor Greg Abbott told the Trump administration that his state wouldn’t be taking in any more refugees, he made a striking claim: Texas is full.
“Texas carried more than its share in assisting the refugee resettlement process and appreciates that other states are available to help with these efforts,” reads the governor’s January 10 letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Texas was the only state to take the White House up on its offer to let state and local leaders decide whether to resettle refugees. The deal was short-lived: Last month, a federal court blocked the executive order at issue, mooting the letter in Texas. Yet the lead-up to Abbott’s move involved a prolonged battle. A diverse coalition of interests, including agribusiness, immigration, and faith groups, lobbied the governor, unsuccessfully, to reconsider before he made his decision. (CityLab reached out to the governor’s office for comment and will update with any response.)
Local leaders, too, called on Abbott to drop his opposition to allowing refugees to rebuild their lives in Texas. Mayors in Texas on both sides of the political aisle argued that refugees have a positive impact on their communities, and they insisted that the state can take on far more.
“Refugees have an overwhelmingly positive impact,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler tells CityLab. “We’re not talking about a great number of people. In 2017, just about 3,000 people for the entire state. Austin had about 10 percent of that, about 324 refugees. Austin represents about 7 percent of the [state refugee] population. It’s clearly not a burden.”
Abbott is correct that Texas has resettled more refugees than any other state in recent years. Given its vast size and booming cities—San Antonio, Fort Worth, and Austin were among the nation’s fastest-growing cities over the last decade—that’s to be expected. Adjust for the state’s population, though, and a different pattern emerges: Compared with other states, Texas falls in the middle of the pack when it comes to refugee resettlement, with 8 refugees per 100,000 residents in 2019. It lags far behind the states that led the nation in finding homes for refugees (per capita), namely Washington (with 19 refugees per 100,000 residents), Idaho (25), and Kentucky (29). And all of these states relocated far fewer refugees in 2019 than they did in prior years.