Ripples from the migrant crisis reach Texas

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Governor Abbot's decision to opt out of a program that resettles Syrian refugees has been a controversial one. Its discussion brings up questions of Catholic doctrine. Photo by Paulina Martin.

As of Sept. 30, Texas has withdrawn from the Federal Refugee Resettlement Program. This change has been a long time coming, starting with Governor Greg Abbott directing resettlement nonprofits in Texas to stop accepting Syrian refugees last November. However, the shift has received relatively little attention, overshadowed by other political debates.

The decision to withdraw from the program has been prompted by security concerns about the Refugee Resettlement Programs vetting process as it pertains to Syrian refugees.

Texas received nearly 7,000 refugees last year, most from Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq. As of June, 229 of refugees have come from Syria, a small number among the thousands of others coming to Texas.

However, as more refugees flee Syria, more are arriving in the U.S. Abbott, among others, is concerned about just how much checking can be done when there are no records to check. Earlier this year, as President Barack Obama indicated his intention to situate more Syrian refugees, Abbott moved to prevent them from settling in Texas.

The federal government said the decision exceeded Texas’ authority. The question is now in the courts. In June, a federal court ruled that Texas cannot stop the federal government from sending Syrian refugees to resettle here. Texas has appealed the ruling.

However, the decision to exit the Refugee Resettlement Program was precipitated by more than a legal battle. In September, Obama said that the number of refugees accepted during the 2017 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, would rise to 110,000. The U.S. accepted approximately 85,000 refugees in the 2016 fiscal year.

Citing security concerns, Abbott sent a letter to the director of the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement on Sept. 21 saying that if the security issues he had previously raised were not addressed, Texas would withdraw from the program.

With no change in Washington’s position, Texas notified the Office of Refugee Resettlement that it would leave the program on Sept. 30. States are required to give 120 days notice if they intend to leave the program, so Texas will officially be separated from the Refugee Resettlement Program in January.

However, this does not mean that no Syrian refugees will be coming to Texas.

A handful of states do not participate in the Refugee Resettlement Program. In those states, and soon in Texas as well, the federal government works directly with non-profit organizations with which the state would coordinate in all other cases. The federal government will choose one non-profit organization to take over the job of coordinating among the various non-profit groups, as the state government has done in the past.

Indeed, most of the non-profit groups involved in assisting refugees have been very critical of Abbott’s decision.

“The Governor’s actions cannot obstruct our moral obligation to protect and welcome the world’s most vulnerable,” Executive Director of the International Rescue Committee in Dallas Donna Duvin said in a press release in response following the announcement.

Many of the groups that resettle refugees have had increased volunteer turnout since officials have begun trying to bar Syrians from resettling in Texas. Unsurprisingly, religious groups that aid in refugee resettlement have begun to plan for cooperation with other organizations when the state is no longer coordinating among the different non-profit groups. Dave Woodyard, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Dallas, said his agency would remain focused on working with other partner organizations.

In an earlier article concerning the migrant crisis in Greece, we strove to emphasize how events which have become “old news” and rather far from our Bubble will affect University of Dallas students. The Syrian crisis which first sent migrants spilling over into Greece and then the rest of Europe is now reaching our shores, and it will certainly increase from the 229 Syrian refugees settled in Texas earlier this year.

Oceans of ink have been spent debating how Catholic doctrine guides voters in this year’s election circus. However, there is more on the ballot than the presidential election. State level officials can have enormous sway, and local officials have impact as well. Let us remember that when doing our research before election day.

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