The Rejection of Syrian Refugees Isn’t About Security — It’s About Austerity.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, photo courtesy Huffington Post

As of today, 31 governors have declared their opposition to the resettlement of Syrian refugees on US soil. In their statements, each has cited security as the primary concern. In his open letter to President Obama, Texas Governor Greg Abbott writes, “Texas cannot participate in any program that will result in Syrian refugees — any one of whom could be connected to terrorism — being resettled in Texas.”

The ACLU and others have commented on the unconstitutional nature of these executive orders, while others have accused the governors of promoting Islamophobia. With shaky legal foundations and risking a social media blowback, many are asking — what’s the point?

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, photo courtesy Wikipedia.

In a word: austerity. While the federal government has total control over the admission of refugees, governors can still refuse to issue contracts paid for with federal funds. In 2010, Georgia governor Nathan Deal froze contracts that were intended to fund ESL courses, job training, and afterschool programs for refugees in his state. A coalition of refugee agencies and other groups assembled to demand that the governor release the funds, which he eventually did in 2011.

This week, Gov. Deal is once again calling for anti-refugee policy, but this time in coordination with others. These 31 governors have formed a united front, capitalizing on the fear that has gripped their constituencies in the wake of last Friday’s ISIS attack in Paris — the same strategy employed by the Bush administration to initiate the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

These austerity measures targeting the Syrian refugee population serve a malicious economic purpose. Instructing state employees to abstain from their duties will not stop refugees from resettling; it will just make the process even more difficult than it already is. If refugees have no help in finding a job and a place to live, the burden on state welfare programs will only increase over time. For these 31 governors, the end goal is not to reduce government spending but to uphold a culture of austerity, where the act of withholding itself is considered politically prudent and fiscally conservative.

Fortunately, there is a growing international movement rallying to confront austerity around the world. Critics of these governors’ statements are already organizing protests across the United States in solidarity with Syrian refugees. It is critical that these demonstrations not only respond to Islamophobic fear-mongering but also to toxic economic policy. In other words, the slogan “Refugees are welcome!” must be followed by “Austerity is not!”


Emma Caterine contributed to this article.