Jobs and a network of established immigrant and refugee communities are among reasons why Texas continues to lead the nation in the resettlement of people fleeing religious persecution, political conflict and war.
The highest profile refugees are those from Syria and they have emerged as a campaign issue because of concerns — most notably from GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump — that terrorist groups such as ISIS could find their way into the U.S. through the resettlement process. More than 800 Syrians have resettled in in Texas, with more than half of those calling Dallas-Fort Worth home.
“I think that the vast majority of Americans who meet refugees listen to their tragic stories and do see the commonness that unites us,” said Anne Marie Weiss-Armush, president of the DFW International Community Alliance.
Between Oct. 1 and Aug. 31, 6,737 refugees arrived in Texas, according to the State Department. California had the second-highest number of total refugees with 6,463.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
During that period, the largest share of the refugees coming to Texas, 1,544, were listed as coming from Burma, which is now the country of Myanmar; 1,317 from the Democratic Republic of Congo; and 1,235 from Iraq.
While Texas leads in the number of refugees resettled overall, more Syrians are moving to California, Michigan and Arizona. Those states had 1,300, 1,217 and 826 Syrian refugees, respectively, from Oct. 1 to Sept. 8. The number of Syrians resettling in Texas is 825.
Weiss-Armush said the Metroplex has experienced “a surge” in Syrian families, which she attributes to stepped-up efforts by the federal government to meet a goal of resettling 10,000 Syrians. The goal was reached in August, but refugees continue arriving, she said.
Texas top destination for refugees
Federal data through Sept. 8 indicates that Syrians have moved to various metro areas in Texas, including 300 in Dallas, 235 in Houston, 141 in Austin and 71 in Fort Worth. Seven Syrian refugees were listed as resetting in Arlington.
Syrian refugees arrived even after Gov. Gregg Abbott appeared to shut the door on them last year. Abbott urged the federal government to stop accepting Syrian refugees after the terrorist attacks in Paris. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission filed a lawsuit against the federal government and the International Rescue Committee, a resettlement agency. That case was dismissed in June by U.S. District Judge David C. Godbey of the Northern District of Texas.
America is a charitable nation. But we cannot allow charity for some to compromise security for all.
Gov. Greg Abbott on Dec. 8
Laila Amara, area director for Refugee Services of Texas in Fort Worth, said that her agency has resettled a small number of Syrians but that they continue to be a small percentage of arrivals.
“We are also resettling Congolese, Iraqi, Afghani and Burmese refugees, as well as other populations in smaller numbers,” she said in an email.
World Relief Fort Worth, another organization that resettles refugees, has helped one Syrian family this year, said Jay Long, director of church mobilization. The agency’s top populations served this year are refugees from Myanmar, Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq, he said.
Texas is a leader in welcoming refugees, said Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute office at New York University School of Law.
825 Syrian refugees arrived in Texas between Oct. 1 and Sept. 8.
“Texas decided to make a political statement with respect to refugees from Syria,” Chishti said.
The resettlement of Syrians shows how Texas churches and religious leaders have continued on the mission of helping a stranger, Chishti said.
“Evangelicals have taken a strong stand in support of Syrian refugees,” he said, adding that religious-affiliated groups have traditionally helped resettle people in flight.
“They think it is their moral obligation to go in the opposite direction of the governor,” Chishti said.
‘A beautiful soul’
Texas is a pragmatic choice for newcomers, experts and refugee advocates said. Texas offers many job opportunities and the cost of starting a new life in the United States is affordable, experts said. Plus, there are immigrant and refugee communities that want to offer a hand since North Texas has a long history of resettling refugees.
Millions of Syrians have fled their homeland because of civil war and the oppressive presence of the Islamic State. Local groups work to help refugees rebuild their lives in North Texas. World Relief Fort Worth is organizing the third annual World Relief 5K/10K Run in October. Proceeds will help pay for food, furniture and medical/rent assistance for refugees, Long said.
Weiss-Armush said many volunteers are working to help refugees. Volunteers recently held a toy drive for more than 200 refugee children who have resettled in North Texas, including some in Fort Worth. The toys helped youngsters from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Rwanda and Iran celebrate Eid al-Adha, the Muslim feast of sacrifice.
10,740Syrians were resettled in the United States between Oct. 1 and Aug. 31.
Farah Diba, a Plano resident who is originally from Pakistan, said she has been helping refugees with the toy drive project and other efforts because she wants to welcome refugees.
“Our responsibility is to help each other,” said Diba, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen. “Texans want refugees to start their life with comfort, and their children should be happy at any cost. Toys bring happiness.”
Beenish Mushtaq, another volunteer with the toy drive, said that giving toys to children whose lives were traumatized by war, chaos and hate can be uplifting.
“We we try to give him a gift, we tell that child, ‘You matter!’” he said, adding. “You’re a person — a beautiful soul. We need to you make this world a happy place.”
This report includes material from Star-Telegram archives.