We briefly touched on the topic of refugees in the post, How Do I Love the Stranger: Part II. Many of us haven’t heard much about refugees outside of sensationalized news reports and sound bites. It’s critical for us as followers of Christ to remember that these are human beings whose lives hold value to our heavenly Father, and therefore to us. There are many resources out there to learn more about refugees, but my goal here is to provide some quick references for those who would like to know more and aren’t sure where to start.

Who are refugees under U.S. law?

“A refugee is any person who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence,and is unable or unwilling to return to or seek protection of that country due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Individuals granted refugee status overseas by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security are brought to the United States for resettlement by the U.S. Department of State. Voluntary agencies and ORR assist with their resettlement and integration into the U.S. Refugees are eligible to receive ORR benefits and services from the first day they arrive in the U.S.”

Office of Refugee Resettlement, https://www.acf.hhs.gov/orr/resource/who-we-serve-refugees

Refugees are those who have had to flee their home country due to persecution. Most refugees do not end up in the United States, but every year our country does take a small percentage of the total refugees waiting overseas for resettlement. They come through the Office of Refugee Resettlement, and in Texas they are placed in a community with a non-profit agency to guide the process and provide services.

Source: UNHCR website https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html

The Refugee Resettlement Program

On September 26th of last year, the President issued an executive order stating that state and local governments have to consent in writing to continue resettling refugees through the Refugee Resettlement Program. The deadline is coming up, and while 41 governors and many local leaders (including the mayor of Fort Worth) have offered their consent so far, Governor Abbott of Texas has remained silent. 

This is significant because Texas has been the largest recipient of resettled refugees in the U.S. in recent years. We have existing refugee communities and non-profit agencies with decades of experience to help the resettlement process go more smoothly. For example, Fort Worth has 3 resettlement agencies in our city alone*. Having this network already in place makes it much easier for these new arrivals to integrate into society, gain employment, and succeed. Texas should continue allowing these non-profits to do their job and offer their services to both new arrivals and those who are already here.

Key points to consider

  •  Refugees in this program are those who have already been given legal refugee status while in another host country. They were then approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for resettlement to the U.S. The vetting process is extremely thorough and can take years. The people in question are already approved to come to the United States; they just need a place to go. 
  • The non-profits working with those already here will be financially strained if we remove support for ongoing resettlement. We’ve already seen this happen as the number of refugees admitted in recent years has been reduced drastically. Some of these organizations have already had to close offices, leaving the refugees they currently serve without support. 
  • While there are over 20 million refugees worldwide today, less than 1% of those are actually resettled to a country such as the US. Many refugees spend years and even decades in refugee camps.

The people in question are already approved to come to the United States; they just need a place to go. 

What can we do?

I’m asking those who are concerned with this issue to send messages or call the office of Governor Abbott to let him know that we care about refugees. Our local communities are willing and able to welcome them here, but we need his help to continue receiving refugees in Texas. If this idea is intimidating to you, here is a brief script that you can use for ideas on what to say:

Governor Abbott, as a resident of Texas I am concerned about the plight of refugees. I respectfully ask that you offer your written consent to continue refugee resettlement in our state as required under Executive Order 13888. Historically, we have been the state with the most refugee arrivals, and we have the support systems in place to continue receiving more refugees to our communities. We care about refugees and believe they are an asset to our local communities and our state.

You can submit messages to the governor online at this address https://gov.texas.gov/apps/contact/opinion.aspx, or you can call and leave a message at his office switchboard (512) 463-2000. Of course you can also reach him through Facebook, Twitter, etc.

I know it is awkward and difficult sometimes to reach out and encourage a government official to take the right action, but it really can make a difference. If the governor knows that we do care, and that we do want this, it could be the tipping point on which decision he makes. I really appreciate anyone who took the time to read all of this, and I hope that you will thoughtfully consider taking action.

Defend the poor and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy; Free [them] from the hand of the wicked.

Psalm 82:3-4

* See World Relief Fort Worth, Refugee Services of Texas, and Catholic Charities for more information on local efforts in refugee resettlement.