Last Wednesday I posted about Welcoming Refugees to Texas to share information about contacting our governor to encourage him to continue the refugee resettlement program. Unfortunately, two days later, Governor Abbott announced that he was opting out of the refugee resettlement program and that refugees would not be welcomed in 2020.

A blow to our existing refugee communities

This is extremely disappointing and saddening news not only to me but to many who work within the refugee community. Texas has historically resettled a large number of refugees, and we have many vibrant refugee communities throughout the state. While this decision by our governor does not prevent refugees from entering the country – they are still free to be resettled in any of the other 40+ states who have opted in – it is a blow to refugees who already live here.

First, many of the families who come here as refugees are not all approved to come at once. There are people already living in Texas who are waiting on their family members to finally receive approval to come join them here. This was already a process that could take years even before this decision.

Secondly, the organizations that come alongside these refugees who are already here are non-profits on tight budgets. When there are massive reductions in the number of arrivals to a program like this, it will inevitably lead to agencies closing their doors. It has already happened in some places due to the drastic reduction in the number of refugees admitted in the past couple of years. When the agencies are forced to close offices, this leaves the families that they served in a place without proper support.

Who are Refugees?

In reading the responses on social media following this decision, it occurred to me that most people in my state do not understand what this means. I’ve seen comment after comment that are not only hateful, but reveal that the writer is not familiar with what this program even is.

First, let’s define who refugees are. Refugees are people who have left their home country due to persecution due to race, religion, political affiliation, nationality, or membership in a social group, and who cannot return to their home country because of this persecution. The persecution has to be documented, and they will be required to prove it in their interview process.

If you look at the infographic below, it shows the various paths to the U.S. for someone fleeing their home country. The executive order last year and the letter from Governor Abbott specifically apply to refugees who are brought from overseas through our Refugee Resettlement Program. This would be option A below. This is not the same thing as those who come to the border seeking asylum. These individuals arrive in the U.S. with valid visas and are able to apply for green cards right away.

Image from Human Rights First, https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/asylum-overview-how-refugees-get-united-states

There are over tens of millions of displaced people in the world, and most of those individuals are not resettled in a “first-world country.” The vast majority of refugees live in countries neighboring the home country they fled. According to the UNHCR, half of these people are children*.

Responding to Some Myths

There is so much misinformation that floats around the internet which makes it difficult to separate the truth from the lies. Over the past year or so, I have been personally researching our immigration system, refugees, and how the process works. I’ve also volunteered with refugees in our community and have seen these programs in action myself. I would like to share my thoughts on a few of the common one-liners you see online about the situation.

Myth #1: They just need to get in line.

They already did. The resettlement process takes years, and these people have already been vetted, approved, and have waited their turn to be invited to come to the United States. In order to be approved for resettlement to a third country, refugees have to meet specific criteria and do not get to choose which country they will go to.

Image from the UN Refugee Agency, https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/resettlement-in-the-united-states.html
Myth #2: We shouldn’t enable people who come illegally.

This argument does not apply to refugees, as they are entering the U.S. with full legal authorization and even an invitation to do so. See infographic above for details on how they do this.

Myth #3: They are a drain on our economy.

It feels a little heartless to talk about money when discussing people who have fled for their lives, but here we are. While it is true that refugees arrive without much and therefore receive government assistance in the beginning, a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that over their lifespan, refugees will pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits. Many people also don’t realize that the money that our government pays to transport incoming refugees is a loan that is required to be repaid.

Myth #4: They are terrorists in disguise

Please see the infographic above. These are people who have shown a credible fear for their lives, who have had background checks and interviews with multiple government entities. Furthermore, they don’t get to choose their resettlement country. If a terrorist wanted to infiltrate the United States, the refugee resettlement program is a terribly inefficient way to go about it.

Furthermore, according to the CATO Research Institute, “the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack by a refugee is about 1 in 3.86 billion per year, while the annual chance of being murdered in an attack committed by an illegal immigrant is zero. By contrast, the chance of being murdered by a tourist on a B visa, the most common tourist visa, is about 1 in 4.1 million per year. Compared to foreign-born terrorists, the chance of being murdered by a native-born terrorist is about 1 in 28 million per year.” (Terrorists by Immigration Status and Nationality: A Risk Analysis 1975-2017, The CATO Institute)

“the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack by a refugee is about 1 in 3.86 billion per year”

Terrorists by immigration status and nationality: A risk analysis 1975-2017, the cato institute

What shall we do?

I know that this has been a long post, and I appreciate anyone who has made it this far. I believe that as Jesus explains in Matthew 25, our treatment of the vulnerable and those in need is truly our treatment of Him. Loving Jesus means loving strangers and refugees.

My heart is grieved by the decision made by our governor last week, but I know that God is not constrained by the governments of men. As His children, there is a lot of work to be done.

  1. Advocate. If you are a Texan, reach out to Governor Abbott. The official deadline to consent to continued refugee resettlement in January 21. While he has already sent his letter opting out, there is no reason why he can’t change his mind. Call his office switchboard at (512) 463-2000 and leave a message, or contact him through his website https://gov.texas.gov/contact .
  2. Pray. This is really the most important part of all. Let’s pray for our leaders that they would make decisions that are both merciful and just. Let’s pray for the families who have suffered persecution and are awaiting refuge. Let’s pray for the families who are here and separated from their loved ones. Let’s pray for ourselves that our hearts will never grow hardened to the suffering of others.
  3. Help. There are organizations who may be facing funding shortfalls. Maybe now is the time to begin financially supporting one of these. Search for programs in your area that work with refugees. There is often a need to be filled.
Some organizations to check out:

World Relief

Refugee Services of Texas

Catholic Charities

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services

* https://www.reuters.com/article/us-un-refugees/poor-nations-hosting-most-refugees-worldwide-need-more-western-help-u-n-idUSKCN1TK0CE

For a great discussion on recent changes to the Refugee Resettlement Program and how it is affecting the non-profits and the current refugee population they serve, watch this video with Matthew Soerens of World Relief and Sarah Quezada of Welcome.

https://www.facebook.com/Christlikewelcome/videos/158501538927069/
Video from the Welcome. Facebook page 1/30/2020.