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Greg Abbott does not speak for all Texans on refugees

Lots of people are moved to offer assistance to those who most need it.

Nonprofits that resettle refugees say volunteer turnout has increased — in some cases dramatically — since Texas Republicans first suggested they threatened security.

“It’s one of those rare issues where people’s hearts are really united in supporting refugees,” said Chris Kelley, a spokesman for Refugee Services of Texas, the state’s largest resettlement nonprofit with offices in five different cities. “And I think they see through the rhetoric.”

Kelley said his agency had about 100 names on its Austin volunteer list on Nov. 1 of last year, shortly before state leaders started trying to keep out Syrian refugees. That number has since ballooned to more than 1,400.

The group’s Austin chapter now has 30 “welcome teams,” volunteers who pick up newly arrived refugees from the airport, set up their apartments, help them navigate the town and assist in other ways. That is up from 14 teams in late 2015.

At its other locations — in Amarillo, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston — the nonprofit says growth in volunteering has ranged from 30 to 50 percent over the same period.

That new interest has hit in waves, Kelley said, including in November, immediately after Abbott announced that “Texas cannot participate in any program that will result in Syrian refugees.”

The growth is not limited to that agency. Officials at Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston say they are seeing more volunteers each month. The group trained just seven volunteers in July but saw 21 newcomers in September and expects 35 more in October. Meanwhile, annual donations for those services have more than doubled over the past year.

Interest has grown partly because the organization has made more targeted requests but also “because people just want to help,” said Martin Cominsky, the group’s president and CEO, who suggested that even more Texans would volunteer if state leaders offered a more welcoming tone.

It’s a good thing that individual people with consciences have stepped up, because the state of Texas has now officially withdrawn itself from the refugee resettlement program. Which won’t actually do a thing to stop refugees from being resettled here, but probably makes Greg Abbott feel better about himself. Or something. I have no idea.

You know how I feel about Abbott and Paxton’s chest-thumping on this. So I just want to note for the record that Abbott and Paxton stand in stark contrast with the faith community on this issue. We already know that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops calls on “all Catholics in the United States and others of good will to express openness and welcome to these [Syrian] refugees”, not that it has had any effect on Abbott’s self-professed Catholicism. Other groups have now taken their appeals directly to Abbott. For example, every single Episcopal bishop in Texas:

Texas leads the nation in refugee resettlement, and a decision to pull out of the refugee resettlement program after nearly 40 years of peaceful participation is inconsistent with our proud history of welcoming refugees.

More than that, as Christians, we follow a Lord who calls us to care for those who suffer and to show our love for God by loving our neighbor. Our Scriptures teach us that in caring for “the least among us” we are caring for Jesus, and that “Perfect love casts out fear.” We stand in the Abrahamic tradition that insists on generous hospitality toward strangers and sojourners.

While vigilance against terrorism is a real concern, Gov. Abbott’s decision reacts fearfully and broadly against the wrong people, most of whom have given up everything to escape violence and terror and find freedom among us. This decision does not reflect the overwhelmingly welcoming spirit from faith and community partners across Texas. Every day we see Texans practicing their commitment to courage and hospitality by welcoming refugee families and helping them become Texans and Americans.

Also, too, a coalition of seventy (and counting) rabbis in Texas:

We, Rabbis from across Texas, urge you to continue to welcome refugees and not withdraw from the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. At this moment, with the number of refugees and displaced persons at its highest in recorded history, it is more important than ever for Texas to protect and welcome refugees.

Since its founding, the United States has offered refuge and protection to the world’s most vulnerable. Time and time again, those refugees were Jews. Whether they were welcomed to Texas by the “Galveston Movement” after fleeing Czarist Russia, or whether they came later following the horrors of the Holocaust, or the persecution in Soviet Russia or Iran, our relatives and friends found safety in this country, and in the great state of Texas.

Of course, I don’t expect this to have any more effect on Abbott than the USCCB’s position. He doesn’t care, and you can’t make him. I just want to note this for the next time Abbott brandishes his faith for political purposes. Like pretty much everyone else in the country if not the world, Abbott uses his faith when it’s politically convenient for him to do so, and he drops it like a bad habit when it’s not. We should all be clear on this.

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2 Comments

  1. brad moore says:

    Simple math. Refugees can’t vote or donate money.

    Gotta keep the xenophobic angry old white men happy.

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    It’s a nice, emotional argument, and of course Abbott and Co. are big meanies by not supporting unfettered taxpayer funded refugee resettlement. Neatly overlooked, though, is the fact that previous iterations of refugees didn’t harbor extremist elements who want to kill Americans. Hey, maybe the next Muslim refugee to come here will be successful and actually blow up the Galleria and Sharpstown malls. Having faith doesn’t mean they need to fulfill a suicide pact. Unless we can vet refugees 100% and know with certainty that they aren’t here to kill Americans, the safe play is to pass on them.

    I guess some folks just will not be satisfied until OUR marathon is bombed, people in OUR shopping malls are stabbed, OUR buildings are blown up, and bombs are randomly placed around where WE live.