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Refugee Services of Texas

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.

Abbott opts out of accepting refugees

Sadly, not a surprise.

Gov. Greg Abbott informed the U.S. State Department that Texas will not participate in the refugee resettlement program this fiscal year.

The decision comes after more than 40 other governors, including several Republicans, said they would opt in to the federal refugee resettlement program. Resettlement agencies need written consent from states and local governments by Jan. 21. The Trump administration imposed the deadline in a September executive order that requires written consent from states and local entities before they resettle refugees within their boundaries.

The news was first reported by The Daily Wire and later confirmed by the governor’s office. The AP reported that Texas is the first state to opt out of the program.

Abbott said the state and nonprofit organizations should concentrate resources on those already here, according to a letter the governor sent to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“At this time, the state and nonprofit organizations have a responsibility to dedicate available resources to those who are already here, including refugees, migrants, and the homeless—indeed, all Texans,” he wrote.

Refugee advocacy groups condemned the move.

“This is a deeply disappointing decision — although not surprising given Texas’ previous but unsuccessful opposition to refugee resettlement a few years ago,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. “This is precisely why we filed a lawsuit against President Trump’s unlawful executive order, and we are confident that justice will be served.”

See here for the background. Abbott’s actions not only set him apart from multiple other Republican governors, but also contradicts what many cities and counties in Texas asked for. There are two things I want out of life right now. One is for these terrible, amoral cowards who now hold office to be voted out at the next opportunity. The other is for them all to never be described in terms that attribute positive values to the religious faith they claim to practice. You want to be known as a moral, upright person? Act like one, or get the hell out. The Chron has more.

Abbott and refugees

The moral choice is clear. It’s also clear for a variety of other reasons. I don’t expect Greg Abbott to make it, because he’s Greg Abbott.

For years, more refugees have resettled in Houston and Texas than any other city or state in the country.

Now that may end.

Under a new requirement imposed by President Donald Trump’s administration, state and local governments must consent in writing before refugees can arrive next year. At least 34 governors, including 13 Republicans, and 86 county and city executives have given their approval.

Mayors and county leaders of all Texas’ biggest cities —including Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Austin — sent letters opting in.

But Gov. Greg Abbott, who has lead efforts to block Syrian refugees and withdrew from the federal resettlement program in a largely symbolic move in 2016, has not.

If he does not agree, no refugees could be placed in the state, despite what local authorities may want.

John Wittman, Abbott’s spokesman, did not return multiple calls, texts, and emails seeking comment.

“Our understanding is that he’s still weighing his options,” said Jen Smyers, director of policy for Church World Service, one of nine national resettlement agencies in the country. “Given its size and the welcome that refugees receive in Texas, and the faith community’s support, and businesses who rely on refugees for workers in agriculture, manufacturing, and meatpacking, it certainly would have a sizable impact if Texas were not to continue to resettle refugees.”

The Catholic Church, of which Greg Abbott claims to be a devout member, is strongly pro-refugee. The Bible, which people who claim to be Christian claim to believe in, is strongly pro-refugee. Greg Abbott is a Republican, and a Donald Trump minion. You do the math. I’ve said many times in this space that nothing will change until the government changes. Well, in this case this was a change brought about by a change in government, the election of Donald Trump. What has been done can still be undone. The rest is up to us.

State moves to withdraw Syrian refugee lawsuit

Good, though at this point it probably doesn’t matter.

A week after the state officially withdrewfrom the nation’s refugee resettlement program, Texas has moved to end its legal battle over Syrian refugees.

In a short, three-page motion, Texas on Friday asked the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss the state’s appeal of a federal judge’s June decision that threw out the state’s case after finding Texas did not have grounds to sue the federal government over the resettlement of refugees within its borders.

In August, Texas alerted the appellate court that it intended to appeal the decision. But since then, the state announced that it would no longer participate in the federal refugee resettlement program, which helps thousands of refugees from around the world resettle in the state. (Refugees will continue to be relocated here.)

[…]

Donna Duvin, executive director of the International Rescue Committee’s Dallas branch, said the AG’s decision “reinforces” that refugee resettlement in Texas “is perfectly lawful.”

“The move also aligns with what’s actually happening in Texas communities, where refugees typically are warmly welcomed and supported as they rebuild their lives here,” Duvin said in a statement.

See here, here, and here for some background. As the story notes, many private groups are taking on the work that our ever-so-Christian Governor and Attorney General refuse to have any part of. Since they made that decision, and since they had consistently gotten their butts kicked in court on this, they decided to cut their losses and move on to the next ridiculous ideological crusade. And so it goes.

Greg Abbott does not speak for all Texans on refugees

Lots of people are moved to offer assistance to those who most need it.

Nonprofits that resettle refugees say volunteer turnout has increased — in some cases dramatically — since Texas Republicans first suggested they threatened security.

“It’s one of those rare issues where people’s hearts are really united in supporting refugees,” said Chris Kelley, a spokesman for Refugee Services of Texas, the state’s largest resettlement nonprofit with offices in five different cities. “And I think they see through the rhetoric.”

Kelley said his agency had about 100 names on its Austin volunteer list on Nov. 1 of last year, shortly before state leaders started trying to keep out Syrian refugees. That number has since ballooned to more than 1,400.

The group’s Austin chapter now has 30 “welcome teams,” volunteers who pick up newly arrived refugees from the airport, set up their apartments, help them navigate the town and assist in other ways. That is up from 14 teams in late 2015.

At its other locations — in Amarillo, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston — the nonprofit says growth in volunteering has ranged from 30 to 50 percent over the same period.

That new interest has hit in waves, Kelley said, including in November, immediately after Abbott announced that “Texas cannot participate in any program that will result in Syrian refugees.”

The growth is not limited to that agency. Officials at Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston say they are seeing more volunteers each month. The group trained just seven volunteers in July but saw 21 newcomers in September and expects 35 more in October. Meanwhile, annual donations for those services have more than doubled over the past year.

Interest has grown partly because the organization has made more targeted requests but also “because people just want to help,” said Martin Cominsky, the group’s president and CEO, who suggested that even more Texans would volunteer if state leaders offered a more welcoming tone.

It’s a good thing that individual people with consciences have stepped up, because the state of Texas has now officially withdrawn itself from the refugee resettlement program. Which won’t actually do a thing to stop refugees from being resettled here, but probably makes Greg Abbott feel better about himself. Or something. I have no idea.

You know how I feel about Abbott and Paxton’s chest-thumping on this. So I just want to note for the record that Abbott and Paxton stand in stark contrast with the faith community on this issue. We already know that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops calls on “all Catholics in the United States and others of good will to express openness and welcome to these [Syrian] refugees”, not that it has had any effect on Abbott’s self-professed Catholicism. Other groups have now taken their appeals directly to Abbott. For example, every single Episcopal bishop in Texas:

Texas leads the nation in refugee resettlement, and a decision to pull out of the refugee resettlement program after nearly 40 years of peaceful participation is inconsistent with our proud history of welcoming refugees.

More than that, as Christians, we follow a Lord who calls us to care for those who suffer and to show our love for God by loving our neighbor. Our Scriptures teach us that in caring for “the least among us” we are caring for Jesus, and that “Perfect love casts out fear.” We stand in the Abrahamic tradition that insists on generous hospitality toward strangers and sojourners.

While vigilance against terrorism is a real concern, Gov. Abbott’s decision reacts fearfully and broadly against the wrong people, most of whom have given up everything to escape violence and terror and find freedom among us. This decision does not reflect the overwhelmingly welcoming spirit from faith and community partners across Texas. Every day we see Texans practicing their commitment to courage and hospitality by welcoming refugee families and helping them become Texans and Americans.

Also, too, a coalition of seventy (and counting) rabbis in Texas:

We, Rabbis from across Texas, urge you to continue to welcome refugees and not withdraw from the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. At this moment, with the number of refugees and displaced persons at its highest in recorded history, it is more important than ever for Texas to protect and welcome refugees.

Since its founding, the United States has offered refuge and protection to the world’s most vulnerable. Time and time again, those refugees were Jews. Whether they were welcomed to Texas by the “Galveston Movement” after fleeing Czarist Russia, or whether they came later following the horrors of the Holocaust, or the persecution in Soviet Russia or Iran, our relatives and friends found safety in this country, and in the great state of Texas.

Of course, I don’t expect this to have any more effect on Abbott than the USCCB’s position. He doesn’t care, and you can’t make him. I just want to note this for the next time Abbott brandishes his faith for political purposes. Like pretty much everyone else in the country if not the world, Abbott uses his faith when it’s politically convenient for him to do so, and he drops it like a bad habit when it’s not. We should all be clear on this.

Refugee group defies Abbott

It’s on.

A nonprofit organization that resettles refugees in the United States says it will move forward with the placement of Syrian refugees in Texas, despite warnings from officials in the Lone Star State not to do so.

The New York-based International Rescue Committee said in a Monday letter to Texas health and human services chief Chris Traylor that its Dallas affiliate would continue to provide resettlement assistance to all refugees “who have been admitted lawfully to the United States.”

The nonprofit had received a letter earlier on Monday from Traylor urging the International Rescue Committee’s Dallas branch to discontinue resettling Syrian refugees or risk losing its state contract “and other legal action.” The International Rescue Committee – one of about 20 nonprofits that have a state contract to resettle refugees in Texas — had previously informed the state that it would resettle two families in the Dallas area in early December. Both families have relatives in North Texas, the nonprofit said.

See here for the background, here for the letter from HHSC to refugee groups, here for the IRC’s response letter to the HHSC, and here for their public statement. I’ve said before that I have a hard time believing that Greg Abbott would go to the mat against faith-based organizations like the IRC, but these are the time we live in. The next question is how much company the IRC will have in litigation against the state of Texas, if indeed it does come to that.

At least 242 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Texas since 2012. That number is relatively small for Texas — a hotbed for refugee resettlement — but the count of Syrian refugees was expected to increase significantly in the next year as the United States prepares to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees.

At least one other resettlement nonprofit, Catholic Charities of Dallas, had said it would continue to provide resettlement assistance to Syrian refugees. But as of Monday afternoon, that organization had not received a letter from the state similar to the one received by the International Rescue Committee, a Catholic Charities spokeswoman said.

[…]

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission was unable to provide a list of resettlement nonprofits that have agreed not to assist Syrian refugees.

At least two such nonprofits in Texas say they haven’t made a decision about whether to continue settling Syrian refugees.

A spokeswoman for Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston said in a statement that it had not received a letter from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, “so no final determination has been made regarding our next steps for resettling Syrian refugees.”

Likewise, Refugee Services of Texas had not received a letter from the state about Syrian refugees, said Aaron Rippenkroeger, the president and CEO. The organization plans to “seek guidance on the ramifications” of federal and state requirements,” he said in a statement.

The more organizations that stand with the IRC, the harder I think it will be for Abbott to follow through. There’s got to be a way to ease up and find a compromise, but I have no faith that Abbott wants to do that. TFN Insider has more.