Abbott: Texas Will Not Accept Syrian Refugees in Wake of Paris Attacks

Nov 16, 2015

Gov. Greg Abbott says Texas will not accept any Syrian refugees, after the attacks in Paris that left 129 people dead. He's directing the state's Health and Human Services Commission's Refugee Resettlement Program to not participate in any resettlement of Syrians in Texas.

At least 13 other governors have taken similar steps since the terror attacks in Paris, including the governors of AlabamaLouisiana, Indiana and Michigan

In a letter to President Barack Obama today, Abbott also called on Obama to halt all acceptance of Syrian refugees into the U.S., citing potential security problems.

"A Syrian 'refugee' appears to have been part of the Paris terror attack. American humanitarian compassion could be exploited to expose Americans to similar deadly danger. The reasons for such concerns are plentiful," Abbott wrote.

He also cited the attempted shooting in May at a cartoon contest in Garland, Texas that featured drawings of the Prophet Muhammad. A security guard was injured in the shooting. The two gunmen were killed. ISIS later claimed responsibility for the attack.

Because of that security threat, Abbott said, "Texas cannot participate in any program that will result in Syrian refugees – any one of whom could be connected to terrorism – being resettled in Texas." 

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus released a statement Monday in support of Abbott's stance: 

“I share Governor Abbott's concern that relocating refugees to Texas without thorough background reviews compromises our security. Our highest priority as a state has been and should continue to be the safety of all Texans. My office is in contact today with the Department of Homeland Security and the Governor's office about any additional steps that we can take to further protect the people of Texas. I am also asking the Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety to debrief with law enforcement to ensure that all appropriate safety protocols are in place.”

The number of refugee arrivals in Texas in 2014 by country of origin.
Credit Texas Department of State Health Services

But, the governor doesn't have the authority to impose a statewide ban on the resettlement of any refugees, according to Denise Gilman, director of the immigration clinic at the UT School of Law.

"A state simply cannot shut off its borders to somebody living within the United States with lawful refugee status," Gilman says. "What the governor has done is say that he will not allow money that comes through the state Health and Human Services office to trickle down to entities for the purpose of supporting Syrians resettling in Texas. So this is a way of cutting off one support stream — there are several — for resettlement of refugees." 

She also points out that the process for gaining refugee status is not straightforward.

"The refugee process is an extremely stringent, long and complicated process that requires multiple levels of screening and background checks," Gilman says. "It’s just an extremely unlikely route for somebody to use if they were intending to harm the United States. It’s just too difficult. So there really is no danger that individuals would be using the refugee process...to harm the community here."

This story will be updated as it develops.