Houston officials urge Texas governor to accept refugees


In this Jan. 27, 2017, file photo, kindergarten teacher Susan Cody, left, shows newly arrived Syrian refugee Dania Khatib around a classroom as her mother Mahasen Boshnaq, center rear, and father Ahmed Khatib, right, watch at the Northwest Primary School in Rutland, Vt. The parents fled Syria in 2012 and the family lived in Turkey until they arrived in Rutland. In a Jan. 6, 2020, letter to President Donald Trump, Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott reaffirmed the state’s commitment to accept refugees from across the world. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke, File)

HOUSTON (AP) — Officials in Houston, one of the biggest hubs for immigrants in the nation, on Tuesday urged Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to reverse his decision to reject new refugees in the state.

Abbott announced last week that Texas would no longer accept the resettlement of new refugees, making it the first state known to have done so under an executive order issued by President Donald Trump.

Texas has historically led the U.S. in refugee resettlement, and Abbott argued that the state “has carried more than its share in assisting the refugee resettlement process.” Local officials have criticized Abbott, as have the state’s Catholic bishops, who called his decision “deeply discouraging and disheartening.” Abbott is Catholic.

“I ask that the governor reconsider,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the chief administrator of the county that encompasses Houston. “And our community is united in our desire to continue supporting and welcoming refugees as we should do, as people of hope and people of faith.”

Adrian Garcia, a Harris County commissioner, said Abbott had taken “a confused position.”

“It is time that we put this demagoguery, this form of divisive speech and actions, to rest,” Garcia said.

Abbott is a Republican, while both Hidalgo and Garcia are Democrats.

John Wittman, a spokesman for the governor, said Tuesday that Abbott had not changed his mind since last week’s announcement, but that his decision could be reevaluated in the future.

Wittman previously responded to the criticism of Texas’ Catholic bishops by saying that Abbott’s decision wouldn’t prevent any refugee from entering the U.S. or moving to Texas after settling somewhere else. Abbott’s opponents have made the same points and predicted that some refugees would ultimately move to cities such as Houston, which has large refugee communities and several nonprofits dedicated to serving them.

“No one seeking refugee status in the United States will be denied that status because of the Texas decision,” he said.

President Donald Trump announced in September that resettlement agencies must get written consent from state and local officials in any jurisdiction where they want to help resettle refugees beyond June 2020. Trump has already slashed 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.

Refugee resettlement groups sued over Trump’s executive order. A federal judge is expected soon to rule on the groups’ request to prevent Trump from enforcing the order.

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