FORT WORTH, Texas — Tarrant County officials don’t want to make this part of the state off limits to refugees.

So county commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a plan to let refugees resettle in Tarrant County, despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent decision not to allow refugees to resettle in Texas for the next fiscal year.

“I disagree with the governor,” Commissioner Roy Brooks said during the commissioners’ regular meeting. “I think we, as a state, are big enough — our hearts are big enough — to accept refugees and assist them in their resettlement in this country.”

This was a largely symbolic vote because Brooks and other commissioners said they are concerned that if they didn’t approve the proposal then Tarrant County could be off limits to refugees if Abbott changes course or if a judge rejects his decision.

In 2018, more than 200 refugees were settled in Fort Worth, down from 1,497 in 2016, according to estimates by New American Economy, an advocacy group.

This vote was required under President Donald Trump’s Sept. 26 executive order, which stipulates that counties and states must provide written consent to let refugees resettle in their areas.

Across the country, more than 40 governors have given approval or shown willingness to let refugees come to their states.

Texas, which has long been considered a safe haven for refugees, is the first known state to bar resettlement.

Abbott sent U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo a letter on Friday — against the urging of elected officials and religious groups alike — stating that Texas has received more refugees than any other state since 2010.

And Texas has been “left by Congress to deal with disproportionate migration issues resulting from a broken federal immigration system,” the governor wrote. “At this time, the state and non-profit organizations have a responsibility to dedicate available resources to those who are already here, including refugees, migrants, and the homeless — indeed, all Texans.”

Under the president’s order, for refugees to be able to come to Tarrant County, officials had to send a letter to the State Department authorizing that. Commissioners approved the letter agreeing to the initial resettlement of refugees in Tarrant County on Tuesday, although it is moot unless the governor’s position changes.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price had already submitted the city’s local consent.

Brooks spoke against the governor’s decision, noting that refugees brought to the United States are screened, or “pre-qualified,” to enter the United States. And they have a dire need for a new home.

“They are fleeing from oppression and war and poverty and man’s inhumanity … in their home country,” he said. “The United States of America was a country founded by refugees and for refugees.

“It is unseemly for the state of Texas to take this action.”

Nan Tolson, a spokeswoman for Abbott, declined to comment on the commissioners’ vote Tuesday, but stressed that Abbott’s decision won’t prevent refugees from coming to Texas after initially resettling in another state.

“No one seeking refugee status in the U.S. is going to be denied that status because of Texas’ decision,” Tolson said. “The decision by Texas won’t prevent any refugees from coming to America.”

Commissioner Devan Allen also said she’s concerned about the governor’s decision.

“Thus far, I understand Tarrant County has been a very welcoming community” to refugees, she said. “We would be irresponsible to not take action should the governor’s decision change.

“We need to be ready to meet the needs of our refugee community.”

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(Star-Telegram staff writer Tessa Weinberg contributed to this report.)

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©2020 Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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