The Mayor of Dallas is still ready to welcome Syrian refugees in his town | KERA News

The Mayor of Dallas is still ready to welcome Syrian refugees in his town

Dec 23, 2015

Pop quiz: Which American state takes in the most international refugees each year? If you guessed California or New York, you're wrong.

For the last four years, Texas has led the nation in accepting more refugees than any other state. In 2015 alone, more than 6,600 refugees have come to Texas, with eight cities taking in more than 100 each.

But in the wake of the Paris attacks last month, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that the state would be reconsidering its position on refugees.

"The most important responsibility I have as governor is to keep the people of Texas safe," Abbott said. "When we see the dangers caused by Syrian refugees in Paris, it is imperative that Texas do everything we can to make sure we don't have a Syrian refugee sneak into the state of Texas who can pose a similar terroristic danger."

Abbott's administration has been taking steps to enforce his stance. Earlier this month, the state's department of Health and Human Services filed a civil lawsuit against the International Rescue Committee for failing to follow Abbott’s order to halt efforts to relocate Syrian refugees.

Not all municipal leaders agree with the governor's position though. Including Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. His city has taken in more than 1,400 refugees from around the world so far this year. He maintains that it's the “the spirit of Dallas” to help refugees in crisis — not to turn them away.

“I’m very proud of the faith-based communities here in the Dallas area and citizens that are stepping up,” he says. “The practical matter of this is that refugees themselves do not cause us harm. There have been no terrorist attacks since 9/11 because of refugees.”

Though Rawlings believes ISIS is an “evil” group that must be destroyed, he argues that turning away refugees out of fear could potentially embolden the terrorist organization.

“I think the infighting we’re having in the United States is problematic,” he says. “But I also think what we’re seeing is a more diversified world that we live in. We’re talking about terrorism here, but then you can look at what’s happening in the streets of Chicago and other cities as well — there is a militancy out there and a diversification going on, and both of these things are colliding. It’s very important for leaders to be steely eyed, thoughtful, close their mouths at times, and do what’s right for the end objective.”

Taking a more open-minded stance on refugees and the other pressing issues of our time will ultimately produce a winning strategy, especially as “we become a flatter world,” says Rawlings.

“A year and a few months ago we dealt with Ebola, which was an immigrant, and we’re dealing with Central American young men and women who are trying to get out of the drug havens there — we’ve got 500 of them settled now just south of Dallas,” he says. “We’ve got to be ever-vigilant, and we’ve got to make sure we work with Homeland Security and all the federal agencies, but we can’t be so xenophobic that we shut ourselves off to everything else.”

In embracing immigrants and refugees, Rawlings says that the people of Dallas are forging a new path for America in the same way that other cities have done in the past.

“It’s a very human story,” he says. “Last week I went to one of our places in our city where we have the most refugees and [members of] the immigrant population. We lit up trees in that area — they had not had holiday trees before. I met a young girl from Burma, another girl from Vietnam, another girl from Syria and another girl from Central America — all right here in Dallas, Texas. I was realizing that the 21st century, that is going to be the face of it. We’ve got to be a new America as we approach these issues that we face.”

This story first aired as an interview on PRI's The Takeaway, a public radio program that invites you to be part of the American conversation.