Citing security concerns, Gov. Greg Abbott recently threatened to withdraw Texas from the federal U.S. Refugee Resettlement program. Considering how Texas consistently adheres to its conservative agenda, the governor’s statement may not come as a surprise. But the lesser known fact that our state leads the nation in refugee resettlement makes this withdrawal a little more baffling. This decision is fueled by partisan politics, ignores the American values of diversity and community and ultimately cultivates a negative environment for the safety and freedom of Muslims and foreigners in our country.
Prejudice against Muslims has been prevalent in American politics for decades, but lately, it has festered. Terrorist attacks carried out in the past year frighten voters; many reason that if the violence seen in Europe was partially carried out by Syrian refugees, accepting individuals from the same region could lead to tragedy. Even though the issue is far more complicated than the actions of one religion’s extremists, politicians capitalize on this fear to up their polling numbers. Hostile legislation such as Abbott’s resounds with a good chunk of the populace.
This political game is played at the cost of Muslim-Americans’ safety and comfort. Nida Madni, a biochemistry sophomore and practicing Muslim, noted that it is “harder to be able to feel safe… [after] Trump had the spotlight shined on him.”
“More people are vocalizing their bigotry and hatred,” Madni said in a Facebook message. The Muslim community is right to feel uneasy with the destruction of safe spaces and a rise in hate crimes.
Not only would this prejudiced policy hurt Muslims, but it would put foreigners seeking new lives in America at a huge disadvantage. Abbott’s refusal to accept refugees doesn’t just bar Syrians from finding a home in Texas; it prevents Burmese, Congolese, Sudanese and all other refugees from establishing asylum here. Of the 7479 refugees who moved here, 796 are Syrian, and they represent diverse religious backgrounds, not just Islam. Abbott would turn a cold shoulder to thousands to exclude a small minority, all in an attempt to boost his poll numbers.
Furthermore, although Texas can opt out of the refugee resettlement program, it cannot prevent refugees from living in the state. Aaron Rippenkroeger, CEO of Refugee Services of Texas, asserted at a press conference last Saturday that the Texas state government is not the administering entity for refugee resettlement; that responsibility falls to a federal agency. Rippenkroeger said that this national model is also used in about “a dozen [other] states.” Under the Wilson-Fish model, these states are able to accommodate refugees with a “charitable organization that serves as a primary partner,” standing in for the state government to co-ordinate resettlement. If Abbott moves forward with his withdrawal, organizations and community members will begin work to establish a similar system in Texas.
Although it may take a little bit more time, our communities will hopefully continue to accept refugees, even if the Texas government does not. Abbott’s withdrawal from this effective program does nothing but further complicate the red tape surrounding resettlement. More importantly, this continuation of discriminatory policy will undoubtedly further anti-Muslim sentiments and foster a hostile environment for refugees.
Larcher is an economics and Plan II freshman from Austin. Follow her on Twitter @veg_lomein.