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Zimmerman and Mayor At Odds Over Austin's Support of Syrian Refugees

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon

A member of the Austin City Council says he wants to prevent Syrian refugees from coming to Austin, which is putting him at odds with the mayor.

District Six Council member Don Zimmerman, a conservative who frequently finds himself outnumbered by his more liberal colleagues on the dais, is proposing a resolution on Syrian refugees. It would direct all city agencies not to take any action or spend any money that would help Syrian refugees resettle in Austin.

“It only takes a handful of people to cause a lot of murder and mayhem,” Zimmerman said.

It’s unclear exactly how many city resources are devoted to helping Syrian refugees. Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services offers health screenings for refugees, including testing for tuberculosis and providing immunizations. The screenings are paid for with a grant from a state program funded by the federal government.  

Zimmerman says he’s also looking at local charities that may receive city grants. 

“If we gave money to an organization like Caritas or ECHO, you know, the Homeless Coalition, do they look at passports? I don’t know," he says.

Mayor Steve Adler points out, though, that Syrian refugees undergo some of the strictest background checks of anyone entering the country.

“It’s okay for us to accept refugees because it’s safe," Adler says "The folks at the front of the line are women, they’re children and the elderly. This is really about the most vulnerable."

After the terrorist attacks on Paris last week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced he was orderingthe state health department not to participate in resettling Syrian refugees in Texas. Many other governors jumped on board and echoed Abbott's statement, though it's still unclear to what extent states can prevent refugee resettlement.

Zimmerman wants a public hearing on his proposal at a meeting of the Public Safety Committee on Monday, Nov. 30, with invited experts arguing for and against, followed by public discussion.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.
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