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Texas Welcoming Large Numbers of Asian Refugees

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by Nate Schlabach
Immigrants celebrating World Refugee Day in San Antonio. Image: Center for Refugee Services.

The state of Texas is continuing to play an active role in the support of refugees coming to the United States from abroad. For the fourth consecutive year, the Lone Star State leads the country in refugee resettlements – many of whom are coming from Myanmar. The Texas Government, through the Health and Human Services Commission, is working with the federal government as well as local non-profit and religious organizations located throughout the state to provide refugees with the assistance and support they need.

Refugees from more than a dozen countries have flocked to the state with the largest percentage being from Myanmar, Iraq, and Cuba.  Between October 2013 and September 2014, 17% of those coming were Burmese, 27% were Iraqi, and 23% were Cuban. During that same period an additional percentage of people came to Texas from Afghanistan (9%) and Bhutan (5%).

No nationality arrived more frequently in the US than the Burmese, as over 47,000 came between the years of 2011-2013. In 2013 alone, over 16,000 Burmese arrived, with only Iraqi refugees coming in larger numbers. Refugees from Bhutan also came to the US in big numbers as more than 39,000 arrived during that same three-year period. Taken together, Myanmar and Bhutan accounted for just over 36% of refugees coming to the US in 2013, with many deciding to settle in Texas.

Large cities like Houston, which resettled the most refugees in Texas, as well as Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio, are becoming home for large numbers of immigrants. In recent years, increasing numbers of refugees have begun opting to settle in smaller rural Texas towns, including places like Amarillo, Abilene, and Midland. In fact, the largest percentage of Burmese refugees settled in Potter County (Amarillo) in the 2014 fiscal year, which ended in September. The county received 556 new arrivals during that period with 53% of those new arrivals being Burmese.

As a result the demographics of cities like Amarillo are changing. There are more than 35 languages spoken within the city limits and the Asian population in Amarillo has jumped from about 3,600 to 7,400 people since 2000. Even though it is still a small percentage of the total population, these demographic changes are affecting the makeup and dynamics of these cities while expanding their diversity and cultural identities. 

Nate Schlabach is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a graduate student at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University.