Texas officials seem bound and determined to uphold Governor Greg Abbott’s pledge to refuse Syrian refugees, or at least make it difficult for them to be in the state. In the latest development, Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Chris Traylor wrote to the Dallas office of the International Rescue Committee over the holiday weekend to inform the organization that its funding could be cut if they don’t follow Abbott’s orders to halt relocation of Syrian refugees. This has ignited a series of separate exchanges between the IRC, Traylor’s office, and federal officials, none of which have led to any definitive answers on if states can actually legally bar refugees. But they have made one thing very clear—key Texas officials do not want them here.
But though Dallas is the center of this latest showdown, the city itself is led by a shining example of openness—Mayor Mike Rawlings. In an interview with the Dallas Morning News last month, Rawlings stated that it was part of the “spirit of Dallas“ to help Syrian refugees fleeing the terror of ISIS.
Rawlings isn’t the only Texas mayor who has voiced his support for resettling Syrian refugees in their cities. After Governor Abbott’s announcement, Houston Mayor Annise Parker voiced her support for refugees in an statement to the Houston Chronicle, noting that “it is unfortunate that Texas wants to turn its back on the refugees.” In the capital, Austin Mayor Steve Adler posted “Helping those in need and ensuring the safety of Austinites are not mutually exclusive goals,” on Facebook. Ivy Taylor, the mayor of San Antonio, also stated that she would welcome any refugees who passed the federal screening process.
But what sets Rawlings apart from other Texas mayors are his comments on who Americans should really be concerned about. When asked about the safety of Texans in an interview with MSNBC, Rawlings stated that he was “more fearful of large gatherings of young white men that come into schools, theaters, and shoot people up,” adding that “we don’t isolate young white men on this issue.”
Rawlings has a point. According to a study by New America, most of the terrorists attacks on American soil since 9/11 have been carried out by “homegrown extremists.” Muslim extremists have killed 29 people, while right wing extremists have killed 48. And that’s not even including the shooting at Sandy Hook in Connecticut, the Aurora theater shooting in Colorado, and other attacks that lacked ideological motivation.
Rawlings also rejected lumping in Islam as a whole with the actions of ISIS, stating that “ISIS is no more Islamic than Nazi senior staff was Christian.” His comments are a welcome sign of level-headedness in a wave of Islamophobic reactions across the state. In San Antonio, a man was arrested and charged with criminal trespassing after “berating” workers at a local mosque about their religion and refusing to leave. A UT-Austin student wearing a Muslim Student Association shirt said he was spat on, cursed at, and accused of being a member of ISIS. And in Irving, a group of mostly armed men gathered in front of the Islamic Center of Irving holding Islamophobic signs.
Along with Rawlings and the other Texas mayors offering support for Syrian refugees, there are other advocates for Syrian refugees in Texas. After a Pflugerville mosque was vandalized with feces and torn Quran pages, a young boy donated his piggy bank to the mosque. And the day after armed white men stood in front of a mosque in Irving to “show force,” the Syrian People Solidarity Group rallied over 500 people to protest Abbott’s stance against Syrian refugees. But as state and federal bodies clarify who can be in Texas, Rawlings and many others across the state are fighting to keep the doors open.