Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Bishops condemn Abbott’s refugee refusal

Good.

Texas’ Catholic bishops issued a sharp rebuke of Gov. Greg Abbott, a fellow Catholic, following his decision Friday to ban refugees from initially settling in Texas.

In a joint statement by the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, which includes leaders from Texas’ 15 dioceses, the group called the decision “discouraging and disheartening.”

“While the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops respects the governor, this decision is simply misguided,” the group wrote. “It denies people who are fleeing persecution, including religious persecution, from being able to bring their gifts and talents to our state and contribute to the general common good of all Texans.”

“As Catholics, an essential aspect of our faith is to welcome the stranger and care for the alien,” the statement said.

In response to the bishops’ statement, Abbott spokesperson John Wittman said the governor’s decision won’t deny anyone access to this country.

“No one seeking refugee status in the United States will be denied that status because of the Texas decision,” he stated in an email. “Importantly, the decision by Texas will not prevent any refugee from coming to America. Equally important, the Texas decision doesn’t stop refugees from moving to Texas after initially settling in another state.”

See here and here for the background, and here for the full statement, which isn’t much longer than what was quote above. Abbott’s spokesbot’s assertion is both misleading and wrong, as Chris Hooks explains:

People accepted as refugees by the United States are by definition legal immigrants. They’ve already gone through an extensive vetting process by federal and international agencies, proving that they face great risk if they were forced to return to their home countries. They’ve waited years and years to find a new home, sometimes in dire overseas camps. Border security and federal refugee resettlement are wholly distinct issues, and it would be a lie to pretend otherwise.

The Omaha World-Herald hosts a database where you can find information about refugees officially resettled in the United States since 2002. According to the database, Texas has helped shelter about 86,000 refugees through the program, as the state added a total of 7 million new residents. Those 86,000 people account for about 0.3% of the total population of Texas. They’re spread all over the state, from Abilene to Woodville, but concentrated in big cities with preexisting immigrant populations.

These are not the people trying to get over the Texas-Mexico border right now. Indeed, very few of them come from Central America at all. Since 2002, no refugees settled in Texas came from Mexico. Two came from Guatemala, 47 from Honduras, and 267 from El Salvador. In fact, the most popular Spanish-speaking origin country is Cuba. Some 2,800 people fleeing the communist dictatorship found shelter here, just like Ted Cruz’s dad once did, through the federal program. Helping Cubans, of course, is a project with longstanding conservative support. By and large, the refugees America accepts are people who are exiled from countries most Americans couldn’t place on a map—like Myanmar, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

They have stories like Gilbert Tuhabonye, who spent nine hours buried under a pile of his dead and dying classmates at a schoolhouse in Burundi, waiting for death in a pool of fire and blood and caustic chemicals as genocidaires, his former neighbors, waited outside with machetes, before he broke a window with someone’s charred femur and ran all the way to a hospital, a track scholarship at Abilene Christian University, American citizenship, and a home in Austin. They’re fleeing vicious governments, ethnic cleansing, wars, climate-change-fueled disaster, and genocides. They’re artists, pro-democracy activists, faith leaders, muckraking journalists, and everything else you can imagine.

There is, of course, a hypothetical point at which a society begins to bend under the stress of refugees. The countries that host the most refugees are middle-income countries near war zones, like Turkey, Jordan, and Pakistan, and the accumulation of desperate people causes those nations a lot of problems. But we are far, far from that point. And it’s a truism that helping a single refugee is meaningful. The country, and Texas, doesn’t have to take everyone who needs help to do good. Imagine that there’s a civil war in Canada, and a million people flee from death camps. It seems clear that it would be better to give 100,000 Canadian refugees shelter instead of just 1,000. Just the same, it’s a better deed to give a home to ten rather than zero. Zero is clearly the least acceptable option.

The U.S. helps a very modest number of people every year, arguably many less than it should or could. The Trump administration has already gutted the refugee program—in the 2018 fiscal year, America accepted just 22,491 refugees, a number that could be entirely settled in Texas without anyone realizing they had arrived. Texas took in just 1,697 of that number—a rounding error, a smaller population than that of a large apartment complex in Dallas or Houston. It’s said that the population of Austin grows by 152 people a day, which means Austin has added more people since the new year than the whole state took in refugees in 2018.

This, Abbott says in his letter, represents a disproportionate burden, the state having already “carried more than its share in assisting of the refugee resettlement process.” He notes that Texas has taken 10 percent of refugees resettled through the program, perhaps because Texas has just under 10 percent of the nation’s population. There’s clearly no flood of refugees here, but you might ask, do these people themselves represent a disproportionate burden? Is this small number of people a huge drain on state resources? No. It’s certainly true that when they first arrive, many refugees need public help in the form of food stamps and access to health care, in the same way that you would need help if you were, say, a war orphan who had lost everything you ever owned and had to reestablish yourself in Belarus.

But the performance of refugees in America is closely tracked and quantified, and even the Trump administration’s own numbers show that most refugees work very hard to establish themselves, to integrate into our (extremely complicated and not-always-very-welcoming) society. Soon, they’re paying taxes. They learn English, their kids become doctors, their grandkids get liberal arts degrees and join sketch comedy groups—you know, the American dream. And they find ways to give back—just like Gilbert Tuhabonye did.

Perhaps one of the most head-scratching parts of Abbott’s rejection of refugees is that faith-based groups do most of the hard work. Helping refugees is not entirely, or even largely, the province of bleeding-heart libs. Much of the groundwork is done by evangelical Christians, people who might well have voted for Abbott, along with Catholic and Jewish organizations. “It’s gut-wrenching,” Jen Smyers, director of policy for Church World Service, told the Houston Chronicle. “It’s an abdication of everything Texans claim to stand for: freedom of opportunity, freedom of religion, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.”

If you still find yourself feeling uneasy about the prospect of refugees coming to Texas, then, finally, know this. Abbott’s letter doesn’t mean that refugees won’t come to Texas. It means that they won’t get federal help if they do. It means that, say, a female political dissident from Myanmar who was subjected to punitive gang rape and smuggled herself out in the lower reaches of a container ship may not be placed in an apartment in Houston near her cousin’s family, but instead in Fargo, North Dakota. If she then decides to move to Houston, she could forfeit federal assistance and be worse off, less able to integrate successfully. And the charities that could help her will be stretched thinner on the ground.

I’m old enough to remember when various Catholic clergymen made a high-profile vow to deny Communion to Catholic politicians – all Democrats, of course – who supported abortion rights. Mario Cuomo, then Governor of New York, was a favorite target. I thought that was a crappy thing to do then and it would be an equally crappy thing to do now, I’m just pointing it out to note that all things considered, Abbott got off easy. The Chron has more.

Related Posts:

10 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    First, Kudos to you, Kuff, for being fair with your assessment, that you opposed the Catholic Church dinging Democrats over abortion, as well as dinging Abbott for this.

    We’ve already been through most of this in the other thread, but I’ll just point out that, as someone who supports the ban, this is entirely about sheer numbers. The sheer number of immigrants, legal and otherwise, is just too much, too fast, and our country can’t handle it. Half the country is fighting tooth and nail to do wholesale population replacement, while the other half opposes that to varying degrees. One of the reasons Trump won was capitalizing on this sentiment.

    If we weren’t taking in over a million illegal aliens a year, and we curtailed legal immigration to a more manageable, smaller, merit based group, ended the visa lottery, etc. I don’t think you’d see the huge opposition to refugees that you are seeing. Having said that, if we are to take in some refugees, they need to be compatible with Western society. Those that aren’t should seek refuge elsewhere.

  2. Jules says:

    It’s been blocked for now. Abbott is awful.

  3. C.L. says:

    Bill, you may have incorrectly conflated the argument re: the settlement of legal immigrants/refugees to the US with the Fox News footage of illegal immigrants skirting the (wholly non-existent) border wall. One is not the other.

    What exactly would be your ‘Western Society’ compatability test entail ? Ya know, just out of curiosity…

  4. Jules says:

    I’m guessing cowboy boots and big fucking hats

  5. Bill Daniels says:

    C.L.:

    Incompatible with Western society:

    ~pedophile worshipers

    ~communists

  6. C.L. says:

    And how exactly would you check for those predilections, Mr. McCarthy ?

  7. Jules says:

    Ask them if they worship Epstein and Putin’s pal Trump.

  8. Jules says:

    Speaking of pedo worshippers and Trump, he just added a couple of Epstein’s lawyers to his legal team.

  9. Bill Daniels says:

    Jules,

    LOL, you’re really just phoning it in these days. Trying to besmirch Trump by intimating that he’s a pedo is weak sauce. Dude scores all the models, Playmates, and even porn stars he wants. A guy like that doesn’t HAVE to fuck kids. It would be out of his nature to do that.

    Compare and contrast that with Pelosi’s daughter very specifically warning you, “Some of our favs may be implicated.” She knows there’s plenty of pedo politicians, and they ain’t Trump. You’d do better looking at Adam Schiff’s Standard Hotel frolics with recently deceased boys, Adams Hollywood pals like Ed Buck, Kirstin Gillibrand the NXVIUM cultist, Weinstein, Harold Moody, Menendez, and Hillary’s husband, to start with. You intimate that Dershowitz is a pedo. Dude very well may BE a pedo. Who better to defend Trump from a pedo like Schiff than another pedo who knows how pedos think?

    @C.L.: How would I check? Heavy, heavy vetting. If there’s even a hint of Islam in someone’s family history, they shouldn’t be admitted here, period. Weeding out communists will also require heavy vetting. Again, if there’s even a question, they can’t enter.

  10. Jules says:

    “I…a…ass” – Bill Daniels

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *