By Erica Grieder
As governor of Texas, Greg Abbott has rarely exceeded expectations.
But seldom has Abbott disappointed Texans as profoundly as he did this week.
On Friday, the Republican governor announced that Texas will become the first state to opt out of the refugee resettlement program, under a new approach announced by President Donald Trump last year.
This decision is a deeply saddening one, at odds with the values of the city of Houston and the state, both of which have a long history of welcoming refugees, who in many cases have left their home countries to escape persecution, war or violence.
It also raises some real questions about the caliber of Abbott’s political instincts. A day before he announced this decision, Houston-area advocates were confident that he would continue the state’s legacy of resettling refugees.
“I can’t imagine, really, that Texas is going to be labeled as a state that does not welcome others,” said Ali Al Sudani, the senior vice president of programs for Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, when I spoke to him on Thursday.
Al Sudani began working with IMGH as a beneficiary of its services, having come to Houston from Iraq as a refugee. He told me he was hopeful that Abbott would make the right decision eventually.
Most Houstonians, he explained, are on the same page when it comes to refugees: “We have the support from the business community, the faith community, the civic community — all of them.”
Natalie Wood, the senior vice president of programs for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, was similarly optimistic on Thursday, when I asked her for the state of play.
“We do believe in prayer, and we do have strong faith, and we know that usually, in the end, goodness prevails,” she explained.
I asked her what would happen if Abbott declined to opt in to the program, just on the off chance he decided to do such a thing.
“Oh…” said Wood. “Well, I imagine if the governor doesn’t sign, there would be a lot of people who would raise their voices in protest.”