Governor Greg Abbott of Texas on Friday became the first governor in the country to refuse to accept refugees after President Donald Trump signed an executive order empowering local jurisdictions to consent to the federal programme.
“At this time, the state and non-profit organisations have a responsibility to dedicate available resources to those who are already here, including refugees, migrants and the homeless,” Abbott, a Republican, said in his letter to the US State Department. “As a result, Texas cannot consent,” to refugee resettlement this fiscal year, he said.
The decision is a major blow to the US refugee programme since Texas is the largest recipient of refugees in the country.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Abbott had tried to stop refugees before, declaring in 2015 that Texas would not welcome people from Syria following the deadly Paris attacks that November. At the time, the administration of former President Barack Obama continued to send refugees to Texas and other states led by Republican governors who were opposed to it.
So far, 41 governors – 18 of them Republican – and at least seven dozen local officials have consented to resettlement, according to a tally by the resettlement agency Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
Florida and Georgia, other major recipients of refugees, have so far remained silent on their stance. The governor’s office in Florida said it was still reviewing the issue and Georgia declined to comment.
Cutting immigration has been a centrepiece of Trump’s presidency and 2020 re-election campaign. One of his first acts after assuming office in January 2017 was to issue an order capping the maximum number of refugees that year at 50,000. Since then, the cap has been slashed every year.
Trump set a ceiling of 18,000 refugee admissions for this year, the lowest level since the modern refugee programme began in 1980. By contrast, former Democratic President Barack Obama proposed resettling 110,000 refugees in fiscal 2017.
The Trump administration has said the consent requirement, signed in September, aimed to ensure receiving communities have the resources to integrate refugees. But refugee resettlement groups have argued that giving local governors and mayors a veto over whom they accept is unconstitutional and would disrupt the way they work.
Three of the nine national resettlement agencies sued the Trump administration in federal court in an effort to block the order from being implemented.
Arguments in the case were held this week, and US District Judge Peter Messitte in Greenbelt, Maryland, appointed by former Democratic President Bill Clinton, could rule on the case soon.