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Texas Governor Joins Dozens Of Others Saying No To Syrian Refugees

The number of states resisting refugees from Syria has now reached 31. "We're not going to accept any more refugees from this dangerous zone of Syria into the state of Texas," Gov. Greg Abbott said on Fox News on Tuesday.

Texas has had 238 Syrian refugees resettle there in the last three years, the second highest number in the nation. On Tuesday, Abbott directed the state health commission to suspend services for refugees from Syria and told his Department of Public Safety to keep an eye on them.

Despite Abbott's protests, federal law makes it difficult for any state government to say no to Syrian immigrants. Immigration, borders and refugee affairs are the responsibility of the executive and legislative branches. But a sampling of opinions outside the Williamson County courthouse, north of Austin, indicates support for the governor's tough talk.

"They want to form their own little country within your country," says Carl Levitan, a retired machinist in Williamson County north of Austin. "That's not acceptable. That's not the American way. My feeling is they shouldn't let them in the country."

His partner, Karen Thomas, a retired public relations executive, chimes in, "Even one person among them [Syrian refugees] is a threat. We cannot be benign and benevolent about these things."

Standing beside the courthouse, a nurse named Kimberley Cockrell is equally emphatic: "I just think right now ... for our own safety we just need to close our borders to them."

Anger over the Paris terrorist attacks boiled over Sunday night a few miles down Interstate 35 in the town of Pflugerville. A vandal left pages of the Quran covered in human feces outside a mosque. The police are investigating it as a hate crime.

The prospect of Texas state-funded health clinics turning away refugee families from Syria, but not from any other nation, is hard to comprehend for Amy Jackson, development director for Caritas of Austin. "It's a public health issue," she says, "There are certain vaccinations that public school systems require. Are they really going to exclude these people?"

The larger concern is that the anti-Syria talk from the governors is "creating a poisonous atmosphere," says Lavinia Limon, president of U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. "It's a climate of fear, which is just what ISIS wants to see happen."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.