Texas became the first state to opt out of receiving refugees in fiscal year 2020 under a new initiative that gives U.S. states and counties more autonomy in refugee resettlement.
“Texas is one of the most welcoming states for refugees seeking to escape dangers abroad,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wrote in a Jan. 10 letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “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.”
Abbott said Texas has resettled about 10 percent of all refugees entering the United States over the past 10 years, and also dealt with a disproportionate number of illegal immigrants who cross into the border state.
“At this time, the state and non-profit organizations have a responsibility to dedicate available resources to those who are already here, including refugees, migrants, and the homeless,” Abbott wrote. “This decision does not deny any refugee access to the United States. Nor does it preclude a refugee from later coming to Texas after initially settling in another state.”
Its unclear how Abbotts decision will affect Texass Bexar County, which had already opted into the refugee program in November, according to a letter sent to Pompeo by County Judge Nelson Wolff.
“Refugees are resilient, hard workers whose innovative skills have contributed greatly to our state,” Wolff wrote. “They have opened businesses, revitalized towns, and are productive members of our community.”
In September 2019, President Donald Trump issued an executive order that gave states and counties the power to opt in or out of accepting refugees in their locales.
Before that, the State Department would assign each refugee to a sponsor—one of nine nonprofit resettlement agencies—which would then determine placement of that refugee.
The nine nonprofits are Church World Service, Ethiopian Community Development Council, Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Service, Episcopal Migration Ministries, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Hebrew International Aid Society (HIAS), World Relief, and International Rescue Committee.
A resettlement agency receives a one-time payment per refugee to assist with expenses during a refugees first three months in the United States, according to the State Department.
Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, called Abbotts decision “shameful.”
“Texas has a long and proud history of welcoming refugees,” he said in a statement on Jan. 10.
He said HIAS, along with Church World Service and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, has filed a lawsuit to overturn Trumps executive order and the administrations “unlawful and immoral policies targeting refugees.”
Thirty-seven states, six counties, and nine cities have so far notified the State Department that they will take in refugees in fiscal year 2020, which began Oct. 1, 2019.
Two counties have so far opted out—Appomattox County in Virginia, and Beltrami County in Minnesota. While neither county has resettled refugees for several years, both county leaderships have said their county doesnt have the budget to support refugee resettlement.
The United States will accept around 18,000 refugees in fiscal 2020, which has been progressively reduced from the 2016 ceiling of 110,000.
The administration has said the reduction will compensate for the hundreds of thousands of new asylum claims from illegal aliens, mostly from Central America, as well as the backlog of more than 1 million asylum-seekers who are already inside the United States and who are awaiting adjudication of their claims.