Texas Catholics decry Governor’s decision to spurn refugees

Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas greets a Salvadoran migrant June 27, 2019. Seitz walked and prayed with a group of migrants at the Laredo International Bridge in El Paso as they sought asylum in the U.S. (Credit: CNS.)

Catholic bishops across Texas have said Friday’s decision by Governor Greg Abbott not to allow new refugees to settle in the state is “deeply discouraging and disheartening” and are calling on the Catholic governor to reverse his stance.

In a joint statement issued soon after the decision was announced, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops expressed their respect for the governor but labeled the decision, which could have a dramatic effect on incoming refugees, as “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 wrote.

Welcome the stranger

“The refugees who have already resettled in Texas have made our communities even more vibrant,” they noted, as the state has historically welcomed an estimated ten percent of all incoming refugees to the country.

“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,” they continued.

Abbott’s decision not to allow refugee resettlement makes Texas the first state to set such a precedent following an executive order by President Donald Trump allowing for states to do so, even after significant federal vetting.

The decision comes at a time when the president has already capped the number of refugees at 18,000 for the year ahead – down from 30,000 from the year before and 110,000 which were allowed in 2016 under President Barack Obama.

The president’s executive order and Abbott’s decision, could be reversed as a federal judge in Maryland is expected to rule this week on whether the president exceeded his authority in issuing the executive order and whether it is politically motivated.

Should the judge issue an injunction, legal experts believe the Trump administration is likely to appeal the decision.

Ashley Feasley, director of policy for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Migration and Refugee Services office, told Crux that while Abbott’s decision does not mean the refugees cannot come to Texas, it does mean that for this upcoming fiscal year, they cannot be initially settled in Texas.

Settlements

“Texas has been a large player in refugee settlement for the past ten to fifteen years,” she noted, adding that the governor’s decision could have consequences for many of the refugees already approved by the State Department to the country.

Eighty percent of cases of new refugees, Feasley explained, are known as “follow to join,” meaning the individuals that have been vetted by the federal government have a friend or family member already in the United States.

“Given the high volume of refugees that have typically settled in Texas, they’re not going to be able to join with family members as a matter of initial resettlement,” she told Crux.

Following Abbott’s decision on Friday, a string of individual statements from Texas bishops were issued.

Feasley said that faith-based partnerships, such as Catholic Charities, would be among those affected by the Governor’s decision, as they would not be eligible for the initial funding to support refugees in resettlement.