By Christopher White, National Correspondent
NEW YORK – Catholic bishops across Texas have said Jan.10’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.
“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 The Tablet 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.
“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 The Tablet.
Following Abbott’s decision on Friday, a string of individual statements from Texas bishops were issued.
In Fort Worth, Bishop Michael Olson said that Catholic Charities in the diocese would continue in resettling refugees, noting that the states surrounding Texas have agreed to accept new refugees and they expect a secondary wave of migrants to come to the state.
“To be clear,” he wrote in a statement, “these refugees are people who have followed the legal vetting process in the United States and that President Trump has approved. They have been screened and identified by the federal immigration administration and scheduled to arrive this year. Many of these are Christians fleeing religious persecution.”
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.
Bishop Edward Burns of Dallas condemned the decision and said he hopes the governor would reverse course so that Texas could “join the 41 other U.S. governors, including 18 Republican governors, who have provided written consent to continue refugee resettlement in their states.”
“While some headlines read ‘Texas’ Inn for refugees is full’, let’s remember that when Mary and Joseph were told that the inn was full, the innkeeper at least did what he could, he offered his last bit of shelter to them, a simple stable with a manger,” he wrote. “They were not turned away. Which gives fullness to the words Jesus spoke to his disciples, ‘For I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’”
Both Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio and Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas took to Twitter to express their dismay.
Refugees, wrote Flores, “flee violence and persecution, and seek a chance to live, work and contribute in peace. The Governor should reconsider.”
Dylan Corbett, who works with Bishop Mark Seitz in El Paso, as executive director of the Hope Border Institute also took to social media to express outrage, calling the decision “shameful and undemocratic.”
“Every major city in Texas opposes this and compassion is overflowing at the border and throughout our state,” he wrote. “Local communities will continue to lead despite the politics of fear and hate.”
As of now, Feasley said 23 Democratic-led states and 19 Republican ones have agreed to accept refugees.
“We’ll continue to work to get support from the outstanding states,” she said.