Christian groups speak out as Texas Gov. Abbott refuses to resettle refugees in 2020

Tents are set up to provide shelter for migrants and asylum seekers inside of a warehouse in Tijuana, Mexico in June 2019. | World Relief

Christian leaders and organizations are speaking out after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott informed the U.S. State Department last week that he will not consent to the resettlement of refugees in the state in 2020.

Pursuant to President Donald Trump’s executive order last year giving state and local officials the authority to block refugee resettlement in their jurisdictions, Abbott became the first governor in the nation last Friday to refuse his consent for the resettlement of refugees this year.

Meanwhile, 42 other governors have offered their consent for refugee resettlement in their states.

Abbott argued that Texas has “carried more than its share in assisting the refugee resettlement process and appreciates that other states are available to help with these efforts.”

He stated that since 2010, Texas has resettled more refugees than any other state. Since that time, Texas has resettled about 10 percent of the refugees who have come to the U.S., he added. 

Additionally, he said the state has been left to deal with the country's "disproportionate migration issues" as over 100,000 migrants were apprehended for crossing over the southern border into Texas in 2019. 

World Relief, an evangelical humanitarian nonprofit that is one of nine organizations authorized to resettle refugees in the U.S., expressed disappointment that Abbott “has chosen to close the state’s doors to refugees in 2020.”

“We have seen time and again the amazing contributions that refugees make in our neighborhoods, congregations and the local economy,” World Relief Fort Worth Director Troy Greisen said in a statement. “We grieve the families with members already resettled in Texas that will have to wait even longer to be reunited, and we grieve even more for the loss our communities will experience without their new members.”

Trump’s Sept. 26 executive order is the first time ever that the federal government will require state and local governments to provide consent in order for the federal government to resettle refugees in their jurisdictions. 

World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, and the Evangelical Immigration Table spearheaded a joint effort last month to send letters to 15 governors that were signed by thousands of evangelicals. The letters encouraged the governors to provide their consent for refugee resettlement. 

A letter sent to Abbott on Dec. 9 was signed by over 340 Texas evangelicals.

World Relief President Scott Arbeiter said that Abbott’s decision was “out of step with “our heritage as Americans.”

“And most importantly, it’s out of step with our Christian prerogative to care for those in need and the stranger,” Arbeiter argued. “We have been grateful for the leadership Texas has historically shown as a welcoming community and are deeply saddened that they are now choosing to abdicate that role, instead of closing their door to refugees altogether.”

Arbeiter urged the other eight governors who have not yet issued their consent for refugee resettlement to do so.  

In addition to the 42 governors, a total of 86 local officials have offered their consent to refugee resettlement, according to World Relief. 

John McCullough, president of the refugee resettlement agency Church World Service, called Abbott’s decision “cruel” and “harmful.”  

CSW, a cooperative ministry of 37 denominations, is calling on its supporters to contact Abbott’s office to urge the governor to reverse the decision. 

“The Mayors of San Antonio, Dallas, and Fort Worth along with local officials across the state have voiced strong support for refugees resettlement citing the vast economic and civic benefits they bring to communities,” McCullough said. “In one fell swoop, Governor Abbott has denied them the ability to do what is best for their communities.”

McCullough fears that Abbott’s decision will lead to family separation and will leave refugees and U.S. citizens “without supportive services.” 

“It will devastate congregations that will not be able to live out their calling to welcome the stranger. It will devastate businesses that rely on the workforce and contributions of refugees,” McCullough added. 

CWS is among the three faith-based resettlement agencies that filed a lawsuit challenging Trump’s Sept. 26 executive order. The lawsuit argues that the Trump order overstepped the president’s authority by giving state and local governments veto power when it comes to refugee resettlement. 

The deadline for state and local officials to offer their consent is Jan. 21, when resettlement agencies must submit funding requests to the State Department Bureau of Population Refugees and Migration for the fiscal year 2020. 

Katie Adams, the domestic policy advocate for the United Church of Christ, said in a statement that Abbott’s decision “flattens the good news of the gospel into mere words, not the living, breathing gospel of Jesus.”

The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops also condemned Abbott’s decision. 

“While the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops respects the governor, this decision is simply misguided,” the statement on the conference’s website reads. “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 Episcopal Church also objected to Abbott’s decision. 

“The Episcopal Church urges Gov. Abbott to reconsider his decision and express support for continuing Texas’s long tradition of welcoming refugees,” the statement reads.  

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

or Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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