Texas bishops urge governor to reconsider refugee resettlement

Dome of the Texas State Capitol Credit Ricardo Garza Shutterstock CNA The Texas capitol. | Ricardo Garza/Shutterstock.

Texas' 16 Catholic bishops on Friday responded to Governor Greg Abbott's announcement that the state will not participate in the federal refugee resettlement program, calling the decision "deeply discouraging and disheartening."

"While the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops respects the governor, this decision is simply misguided. 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," the bishops said in a Jan. 10 joint statement.

"As Catholics, an essential aspect of our faith is to welcome the stranger and care for the alien. We use this occasion to commit ourselves even more ardently to work with all people of good will, including our federal, state and local governments, to help refugees integrate and become productive members of our communities."

Several of the bishops, including Edward Burns of Dallas, noted that Catholic Charities agencies in their dioceses have partnered for years with the federal government to resettle refugees, all of whom have been screened and approved for resettlement by the Department of Homeland Security.

Abbott informed the U.S. State Department Jan. 10 that Texas will not participate in the refugee resettlement program this fiscal year, the Texas Tribune reported. Texas is the first state this year to opt out of the program; more than 40 other state governors have already chosen to opt in, the Texas Tribune reports.

Abbott acknowledged in his letter to the State Department that refugees could still settle in Texas after first arriving in another state that does participate in the resettlement program.

Several Texas bishops also released their own statements on the matter.

Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth Jan. 10 echoed the joint statement by noting that refugees are those who have fled life-threatening situations at home, and who have been vetted by the federal government. Many, he said, are Christians fleeing religious persecution.

Olson said current local refugee support services will continue to help refugees in Texas, and if Abbott does not reverse his decision those agencies will have to use local funds to replace lost federal refugee funds.

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville wrote on Twitter Jan. 10 that "the Governor's decision not to allow the Federal refugee resettlement program to operate in Texas affects refugees vetted by the current administration. They flee violence & persecution, and seek a chance to live, work & contribute in peace. The Governor should reconsider."

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio also expressed on Twitter opposition to Abbott's decision.

Abbott's veto of the resettlement program was made possible by a September executive order by President Trump which requires written consent from states and local entities before they resettle refugees within their boundaries, the Tribune reports. A federal judge in Maryland is expected to rule this week on whether Trump exceeded his authority with the executive order, the New York Times reports.

The Tribune reports that Texas had been a national leader in resettlement for several years after reaching a high of about 8,212 people in 2009. The number remained around 7,500 from 2012-2016, and in 2016 the governor sued the Obama administration in an effort to prevent Syrian refugees from resettling in Texas.

Despite this, and despite Abbott's subsequent withdrawal of the state from the resettlement program, local agencies continued to resettle refugees in Texas, which accepted about 1,700 refugees during FY 2018- more than any other state- and about 2,460 in FY2019, the Tribune reports.

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