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Refugee Services of Texas

State moves to withdraw Syrian refugee lawsuit

Good, though at this point it probably doesn’t matter.

A week after the state officially withdrewfrom the nation’s refugee resettlement program, Texas has moved to end its legal battle over Syrian refugees.

In a short, three-page motion, Texas on Friday asked the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss the state’s appeal of a federal judge’s June decision that threw out the state’s case after finding Texas did not have grounds to sue the federal government over the resettlement of refugees within its borders.

In August, Texas alerted the appellate court that it intended to appeal the decision. But since then, the state announced that it would no longer participate in the federal refugee resettlement program, which helps thousands of refugees from around the world resettle in the state. (Refugees will continue to be relocated here.)

[…]

Donna Duvin, executive director of the International Rescue Committee’s Dallas branch, said the AG’s decision “reinforces” that refugee resettlement in Texas “is perfectly lawful.”

“The move also aligns with what’s actually happening in Texas communities, where refugees typically are warmly welcomed and supported as they rebuild their lives here,” Duvin said in a statement.

See here, here, and here for some background. As the story notes, many private groups are taking on the work that our ever-so-Christian Governor and Attorney General refuse to have any part of. Since they made that decision, and since they had consistently gotten their butts kicked in court on this, they decided to cut their losses and move on to the next ridiculous ideological crusade. And so it goes.

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.

Refugee group defies Abbott

It’s on.

A nonprofit organization that resettles refugees in the United States says it will move forward with the placement of Syrian refugees in Texas, despite warnings from officials in the Lone Star State not to do so.

The New York-based International Rescue Committee said in a Monday letter to Texas health and human services chief Chris Traylor that its Dallas affiliate would continue to provide resettlement assistance to all refugees “who have been admitted lawfully to the United States.”

The nonprofit had received a letter earlier on Monday from Traylor urging the International Rescue Committee’s Dallas branch to discontinue resettling Syrian refugees or risk losing its state contract “and other legal action.” The International Rescue Committee – one of about 20 nonprofits that have a state contract to resettle refugees in Texas — had previously informed the state that it would resettle two families in the Dallas area in early December. Both families have relatives in North Texas, the nonprofit said.

See here for the background, here for the letter from HHSC to refugee groups, here for the IRC’s response letter to the HHSC, and here for their public statement. I’ve said before that I have a hard time believing that Greg Abbott would go to the mat against faith-based organizations like the IRC, but these are the time we live in. The next question is how much company the IRC will have in litigation against the state of Texas, if indeed it does come to that.

At least 242 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Texas since 2012. That number is relatively small for Texas — a hotbed for refugee resettlement — but the count of Syrian refugees was expected to increase significantly in the next year as the United States prepares to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees.

At least one other resettlement nonprofit, Catholic Charities of Dallas, had said it would continue to provide resettlement assistance to Syrian refugees. But as of Monday afternoon, that organization had not received a letter from the state similar to the one received by the International Rescue Committee, a Catholic Charities spokeswoman said.

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The Texas Health and Human Services Commission was unable to provide a list of resettlement nonprofits that have agreed not to assist Syrian refugees.

At least two such nonprofits in Texas say they haven’t made a decision about whether to continue settling Syrian refugees.

A spokeswoman for Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston said in a statement that it had not received a letter from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, “so no final determination has been made regarding our next steps for resettling Syrian refugees.”

Likewise, Refugee Services of Texas had not received a letter from the state about Syrian refugees, said Aaron Rippenkroeger, the president and CEO. The organization plans to “seek guidance on the ramifications” of federal and state requirements,” he said in a statement.

The more organizations that stand with the IRC, the harder I think it will be for Abbott to follow through. There’s got to be a way to ease up and find a compromise, but I have no faith that Abbott wants to do that. TFN Insider has more.