On the Wrong Side of History

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HRI condemns yesterday’s decision by Governor Greg Abbott that Texas is withdrawing from the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program as of October 1, 2016.  This does not mean that Texas will no longer resettle refugees, just that Texas will not administer the program that coordinates their resettlement and the limited but crucial social and support services they receive.  Instead, after a transition period, as of January 31, 2017, this role will be facilitated by a designated non-profit organization with no support from the state government.  Refugees, the most closely vetted group allowed into the United States, will continue to settle in Texas.

The Governor’s announcement relates to HRI’s clients in a couple of ways.  When HRI clients are granted asylum, they become eligible to access narrow but extremely helpful refugee/asylee cash and medical assistance through refugee resettlement agencies. These short-term federal benefits are offered to asylees for eight months and are incredibly helpful safety nets for our clients as they integrate into society and rebuild their lives.

This change also affects children with no parent or adult caretaker, including orphans, of whom HRI serves.  Under the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) program, these are long-term foster care children who can participate in this program after they receive status such as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status or asylum.  These resilient children receive a number of services through this program, including indirect financial support for housing, food, clothing, medical care, mental health services, case management by social workers, and training on skills such as English, independent living, career counseling, and education vouchers. Our local partner, Catholic Charities Ft. Worth is the URM provider here and we have been providing legal representation for these kids for several years.

It is unclear at the moment what the practical impact of this decision will be for our clients who access these services. It is possible that the Office of Refugee Resettlement will create a “work – around” with their local Texas partners to administer these benefits, but it’s not yet clear what that will be. It will, at the least, introduce uncertainty and disruption to those accessing these services and those seeking to assist refugees.

HRI also denounces the governor’s decision as inconsistent with Texas’s proud history of welcoming those fleeing war and violence. Instead, the governor is playing politics with the lives of vulnerable populations and their families. We know from our work that those escaping some of the world’s most dangerous regions come to the United States to rebuild their lives in safety, work hard, and send their children to school. Asylees and refugees are taxpayers, consumers, business owners, and leaders in a broad range of industries across Texas. We cannot allow our state to abandon families who have already gone through so much. This decision does not reflect Texas’ values and sends a dangerous message to the rest of the country and world about the value of human lives.

Although HRI does not represent resettled refugees, it is important to note that, contrary to the governor’s statement, the United States has the most stringent refugee security screening process in the world. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, National Counter-Terrorism Center and other intelligence agencies conduct rigorous and comprehensive security screenings on all refugees prior to their arrival in the United States. Withdrawing from the resettlement program does not make Texans safer or accomplish any public policy goals. It sends the message that Texas is an unwelcoming place for immigrants, with leaders who are unwilling to assist vulnerable families forced to flee their homes in search of a new life. This is not who we are as Texans.

It is shameful that the governor seems so comfortable tearing families apart and using refugees as pawns in a political game. His attempt to harm refugees and the communities who welcome them is a mean spirited move that will only serve to stain the reputation of Texas and the United States as a whole.

During a week when world leaders are coming together for two major summits to address the global refugee crisis, the governor’s decision sends the exact wrong message to the global community about who we are as a state and a country. For Governor Abbott to make this announcement this week, when the President is convening world leaders to find solutions to the global refugee crisis, is particularly concerning and even dangerous. The Governor’s actions seem to be calibrated specifically to undermine U.S. diplomacy, as the Presidential Summit is encouraging other countries to keep their doors open to refugees, ensure refugees can work and refugee children can attend school, and increase humanitarian assistance to displaced persons. Why would a U.S. governor try to undermine U.S. diplomatic efforts to encourage other countries to do more to address the refugee crisis? At this moment, the U.S. should lead by example and put our best foot forward so that other countries follow our lead. During a time when the eyes of the world are watching to see how the U.S. leads, Texas is placing us on the wrong side of history.

 

For further comments, please contact De’Jonnae Boyd (dboyd[at]hrionline.org).