It is the second most-diverse city in the United States. And this city of four million people is number one in America for taking in the most refugees.
Refugees who have come from all over the world: from Vietnam and Burma to Afghanistan and Iraq.
And more recently from Syria.
Refugees who have been helped by resettlement agencies to start a new life in Houston.
The Jandari family
Euronews met with one Syrian family.
Maher Jandari is one of the 125 Syrians who has settled in Houston since the war began. He came with his wife and five children one year ago.
“I left because of problems and the difficulties of day-to-day life. The situation in Syria was very bad, the destruction and everyone was killing everyone but you didn’t know who was killing whom. Even me, they cornered me against a wall and they wanted to kill me.”
Valerie Zabriskie, Euronews: “Did you want to come to America? Or did you want to go to a country in Europe?”
Maher Jandari: “Yes, here. There is a psychological calm despite the language barrier and cultural differences. I am happy here because I feel safe. That is something I didn’t feel in an Arab country.”
Testing the Lone Star State
Over the last five years, Texas has resettled 42,000 refugees. That’s more than any other state.
But lately this refugee haven has been tested.
In the wake of the Paris attacks last November, the governor of Texas sent a letter to President Obama saying his state would no longer accept any Syrian refugees.
But the decision was overruled by a Federal judge because the 1980 Refugee Act is a federal law.
Yet Texas was not the only state, or politician to call for a halt.
After further terrorist attacks in California and Brussels, Donald Trump took the anti-refugee stance one step further.
CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) May 16, 2016
Trump warned that even if the Obama administration reduced the numbers of Syrian refugees allowed into America from 65,000 to 10,000, this was still too much.
“And all these people that they want to take in from Syria, we’re funding visa programmes. No, think of it. Which by the way we have no idea who they are, where they came from. And they’re young, and they’re strong and there’s a lot of men and you look at this migration and you say maybe it really is the ultimate Trojan Horse.”
Trump has got it wrong – refugees
Ali Al Sudani is an Iraqi refugee who came to Houston in 2009. Today, he is Director of Refugee Services at Houston’s Interfaith Ministries. He is also a US citizen.
Ali says Trump and other politicians have got it wrong when it comes to refugees.
Valerie Zabriskie, Euronews:“Even though we’ve seen that Houston is so welcoming to refugees, there is this fear being created by certain politicians to not bring in any more refugees. Why do you think that is?
Ali Al Sudani:“Well absolutely, it’s ridiculous. It’s funny when I hear those kind of claims. If terrorist or radical groups want to penetrate the system, probably this is not the fastest way for them to come to Europe or to the United States or to any other country. You can apply for the United States Refugee Assistant Programme but there is no guarantee that you will be admitted. Refugees are subject to the most comprehensive and rigorous checks, more than any other traveller who is coming to the united states.”
And while the screening process is rigorous so is the support to resettle refugees once they’ve arrived.
Besides language classes, refugees are provided with housing, schools and especially assistance in getting a job.
“I think it’s very important for them to settle down and start to create a new life here,” says the English teacher we spoke with. . Most of these students never went to school before in their own country. And this may be the only chance they have to get an education and it’s fantastic that we can give it to them.”
Dinner at the Afghan village
The Afghan Village restaurant in Houston is owned and partly-staffed by refugees.
The owner came from Afghanistan 17 years ago.
Omer Yousafzai earned a law degree in Houston and worked for a refugee service agency before opening the restaurant.
Omer says he has never been discriminated against. He blames right-wing media and politicians for stoking the flames of a fire that simply does not exist:
“I am Muslim, I love this country. I’ve worked for the government and I will work anytime, any given time, they ask for me for my help, I’d love to do it.”
“Do they want to exclude Muslims because they are a threat? If I was a threat, you wouldn’t be standing here in front of me. I feed people, I provide services and I could harm people if I want to.”
“There are hundreds and thousands of people in this city that are Muslims, there are over 100, 000 in the Pakistani community alone. So if they were bad people, you would see incidents, every minute, every hour.”
“Syrians have become scapegoats for the entire world
For Maher, like the refugees who settled in Houston before him, the city still offers a safe haven far from the current political storms brewing over immigration.
He is thankful for Houston’s offer to pursue the American dream.
He just wishes the message could be clearer: no refugee leaves their country by choice.
He says demonising refugees is understandable but wrong – Syrians need sympathy not suspicion.
Maher: “Throughout the world, in every country there are potential terrorists. And there are those who are with the regime and against the regime. There just has to be one incident in the US, or an explosion in Germany and everyone will say a Syrian was behind this. But that’s not right. Syrians have become scapegoats for the entire world.”
“There are potential terrorists in every country throughout the world. There are those who with the regime and against the regime.”
“There just has to be one incident in the US, or an explosion in Germany and everyone will say a Syrian was behind this. But that’s not right. Syrians have become scapegoats for the entire world.”