Syrians Small Fraction of Refugees Reaching Texas

Federal resettlement numbers show a refugee population in Texas that is mostly from Myanmar — which the U.S. State Department still classifies as Burma — and Iraq, with most living in the state’s major metropolitan areas.

A group gathered at Wooldridge Park in Austin on Nov. 22, 2015, to protest Gov. Greg Abbott's decision not to accept refugees from Syria.

Despite increased scrutiny of Syrian refugees, and efforts to keep them out of the state, Syrians make up only a tiny portion of the thousands of refugees planting new roots in Texas.

Federal resettlement numbers reflect a refugee population in Texas arriving mostly from Myanmar — which the U.S. State Department still classifies as Burma — and Iraq. Most find new homes in the state’s major metropolitan areas.

In recent years, the United States has admitted between 60,000 and 70,000 refugees a year, and about 10 percent were resettled in Texas. So far this year, more than 6,600 refugees have been placed in Texas, with almost two-thirds living in resettlement hotspots like Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth.

 

Refugee resettlement in the U.S. is completely funded by the federal government, and the state department is responsible for refugee admissions. Security officials process applications received through the United Nations and conduct background and biometric screenings — a process that can take up to two years.

Once refugees are cleared by the state department, they are assigned to one of nine national refugee resettlement organizations that place individuals in communities across the country. Local nonprofit affiliates take over the cases and manage the resettlement process, including helping them find jobs, learn English and enroll children in school.

Since 2012, about 2,300 people from Myanmar and 1,800 from Iraq have been placed in the state each year. Several hundred refugees come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Bhutan annually, though the numbers from Bhutan have declined in recent years.

Meanwhile, the number of Syrians placed in Texas is on the rise. As of Monday, 206 Syrians had been placed in Texas this year, three percent of the total refugees. That’s up from four Syrians in 2012, when they made up less than one percent of total refugees placed in the state.

Texas has taken in the third-largest number of Syrian refugees behind California and Michigan, where 228 and 213 Syrians, respectively, have been resettled. Those numbers are expected to rise as the U.S. prepares to take in up to 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next year.

 

At least nine more Syrian refugees are expected to arrive in the state this year despite a directive by Gov. Greg Abbott attempting to bar them. Citing security concerns, Abbott joined more than two dozen mostly Republican governors in vowing to bar Syrian refugees from the states after questions arose about whether the people behind the November terrorist attacks in Paris had ties to the Islamic State.

Questioning Abbott’s jurisdiction, several resettlement agencies and the federal government have said they plan to continue aiding Syrian refugees, reiterating that these individuals are rigorously vetted. The state filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration and a refugee resettlement nonprofit as part of its efforts to keep Syrian refugees out, but has since dropped its request for a temporary restraining order to block their immediate arrival.

Instead, Texas is now moving forward with the lawsuit asking that federal and resettlement officials be required to provide state officials with more information regarding Syrian refugees.