Refugee resettlement ban harms those in need at Texas’ cost

Mehlam Bhuriwala

We are witnessing the largest number of displaced peoples in recorded history. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 70.8 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced from their homes. More than half of nearly 26 million refugees are under the age of 18. 

This group includes millions of stateless people who lack access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of travel. To place the numbers in perspective, one person is displaced nearly every two seconds.

Put briefly, we are facing an unprecedented displacement crisis. War, economic exploitation and neocolonial land-grabbing have rendered places such as the Gaza Strip unlivable for millions of residents packed into 140 square miles in the world’s largest open-air prison

For the millions of refugees forced out of their homes, little refuge actually exists. Communities spend generations languishing in poorly serviced refugee camps, many of which lack basic necessities such as running water, while waiting to be resettled to a country of the U.N.’s choice.

Meanwhile, the United States, which has had the world’s largest economy since 1871, is on pace to accept the lowest number of refugees since 1980 when Congress created The Federal Refugee Resettlement Program. 

In September, President Trump mandated that resettlement agencies get written consent from local and state government officials anywhere they want to resettle migrants. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott responded by declaring that Texas will be the first state refusing to accept any new resettlements. 

This is a reversal of recent leadership from the state in handling resettlements. Several Texas cities have large refugee populations, and Texas took in more refugees than any state in 2019. Abbott justified this decision by saying resettlement agencies “have a responsibility to dedicate available resources to those who are already here.”

Abbott’s reasoning is highly flawed. For one, most refugees who come here immediately begin the process of bringing their families, many of whom are still suffering in camps and areas devastated by violence and persecution. 

Abbott’s order channels the same evil logic that drove the Trump administration to tear families apart at the border. It is no longer the responsibility of the world’s most prosperous country to echo the timeless call to “Give me your tired, your poor … The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” 

Thousands of resettled refugees have come here with the promise that they could deliver the same liberation to their loved ones. Ending this long chapter of aid to the world’s needy tells us that those values of honesty, integrity, and multiculturalism have lost their weight.

Texas’ denial of new refugees also cuts off a critical bloodline for the state economy. In 2015, Texan refugees contributed $422.3 million in taxes. Across the United States, more than 180,000 refugee entrepreneurs generated $4.6 billion in taxable business income. Texas’ opting-out of Trump’s already low resettlement plan will cost the government $17.1 million in 2020 alone. 

The loss of federal funding for resettlement, much of which is spent on supporting local businesses, only adds to this deficit. Assuming the governor is aware of this fact, it’s clear that Texas is using the last strand of anti-refugee thought and blatant xenophobia to justify this decision.

Beyond the economic capacity to support refugee resettlement, the U.S. has a moral obligation to protect the world’s refugees. 

Only intensifying under President Trump, the U.S. has inflated the global refugee population with unrelenting military operations that have destroyed communities and caused thousands of civilian deaths. The U.S. has encouraged partner militaries and combatants to ignore international humanitarian law and commit war crimes, fostering a breakdown in international norms related to war conduct and the protection of civilians. An institutional fascination on military conquest has real consequences for target populations. 

Like it or not, Texas has benefited from war campaigns that have brutalized and displaced more than 70 million would-be doctors, teachers, writers, farmers and architects. It is the political, economic and moral imperative of the state government to do its part in mitigating the impacts of the U.S.’s  actions abroad. 

It is our responsibility as citizens of this nation to critically discuss our complicity in the necessity of refugee resettlement. That conversation starts with a phone call to your local representative and the governor’s office at (512) 463-1782.

Mehlam Bhuriwala is a Middle Eastern Studies senior and Palestine Solidarity Committee steering committee member.