The U.S. bishops said that federal officials will "diligently engage" with state and local officials to ensure local concerns are taken into account, but federal officials will have the final decision over refugee resettlement.
Gov. Gregg Abbott of Texas said Jan. 10 that Texas will not participate in the refugee resettlement program this fiscal year.
"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 said in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He said Texas has already been forced to "deal with disproportionate migration issues," which he blamed on federal inaction and a broken immigration system.
He cited May 2019 figures indicating about 100,000 migrants were detained crossing Texas' southern border.
Refugee resettlement in Texas peaked in 2009, when about 8,212 people were resettled. About 7,500 people were resettled in Texas per year from 2012-2016, the Texas Tribune reports.
The Texas Catholic bishops said the governor's decision was "deeply discouraging and disheartening." They asked the governor to reconsider his decision, noting that refugees contribute a great deal to society.
"While the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops respects the governor, this decision is simply misguided," they said. "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," said the Texas bishops.
In a Jan. 16 letter to the editor of the Miami Herald, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami criticized Abbott's decision and noted the longtime work of Catholic Charities in Florida. The agency helped unaccompanied minors from Cuba in the 1960s, resettled refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in the 1970s, and participated in the federal refugee resettlement program since it began in 1980.
He stressed the security of the vetting policies already conducted by the United States' government. He said refugees have to meet established criteria such as fleeing religious persecution or political violence.
"Often mentored by church volunteers and given resettlement support, refugees and their family quickly integrate into American society, finding work and making a positive contribution to their adopted country," Wenski said.
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