Taking in refugees has been part of Texas history since the Alamo [Opinion] – Houston Chronicle

Posted By on January 19, 2020

Texas Gov. Greg Abbotts decision last week to close our states doors to a small handful of refugees fleeing war, starvation and oppression is a tragic mistake at odds with Texas history and values. Turning away a few helpless men, women and children driven from their homelands and seeking a better life isnt necessary and it isnt who we are.

For the moment, Abbotts decree is on hold. On Wednesday, a federal judge blocked the Donald Trump Administrations executive order giving states a new veto power over where refugees can settle. But the judges order is preliminary and can be appealed, and the Supreme Court has given the administration an especially wide berth in immigration matters. Our governors rejection may well become permanent state policy. More than that, it has the moral force of a message to the entire world an expression of our identity from our highest state official.

The Anti-Defamation League has a long history of advocating for refugees. Founded in 1913 to fight anti-Semitism and bigotry of all kinds, ADL and other Jewish organizations tried in the 1930s to get the United States to admit more people fleeing Nazi persecution. Mostly we failed, and the vast majority of those locked out of the United States perished in the Holocaust.

But Texas history of welcoming desperate outsiders is even longer than ADLs. Visit the Alamo and youll see foreign flags representing the 26 Europeans who gave their lives for Texas independence. Several were Irishmen who escaped English subjugation.

After 1848, Texas became a haven for German and Czech refugees fleeing the repression that followed failed revolutions in Europe. In the 20th century, civil war in Mexico drove countless refugees to Texas, while the 1970s saw Vietnamese boat people traumatized and penniless risk their lives to escape communist tyranny and put down roots along the Gulf Coast. Today, the descendants of all these newcomers make us the diverse, dynamic place we love.

Have things changed so dramatically? As before, todays refugees hail from the most wretched places on earth. In 2019, the largest group came from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a failed state tormented by decades of war and random militia violence, child soldiers and mass rape. The second largest group came from Myanmar, where the government has overseen a vicious genocide against an ethnic and religious minority, the Rohingya, driving hundreds of thousands into refugee camps in surrounding countries.

Texas would not have been overwhelmed by the new arrivals. President Trump has already sliced the total number of admissible refugees to 18,000 in 2020 far below annual quotas approved by recent administrations of both parties. Of these, Texas stood to welcome approximately 2,500, based on figures from 2018-19. With 28 million Texans, we cant shelter 2,500 refugees?

Refugees are the most vetted and scrutinized immigrants admitted to the United States. The Departments of Homeland Security and State check their backgrounds for anything suggesting a security risk in an exhaustive process that typically takes 18-24 months. In 2015, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder paused his states acceptance of Syrian refugees while state officials investigated the federal governments screening efforts. As he wrote last year in the Wall Street Journal: That experience proved to me that the U.S. has the most thorough refugee vetting system in the world.

Importantly, this distinguishes refugees from asylum seekers. People already here who file a claim for asylum havent undergone the same security checks and cant be fully assessed until their cases are heard. As for refugees, we already know their histories before they are approved and arrive.

Consequently, everyone else has politely declined the administrations new offer to reject refugees. Except Texas. Utahs Gov. Gary Herbert actually asked President Trump for permission to take more. They become productive employees and responsible citizens, he wrote, adding that compassion is simply embedded in our states culture. Is Texas less compassionate?

Herberts reference to productive employees hints that kindheartedness isnt the only reason to admit refugees. Thanks to federal funding and help from several organizations that provide social services, job placement and other assistance, most refugees become self-sufficient.

They have higher rates of employment than people born in the United States. Ten years after entry, refugees use the same or slightly lower levels of public assistance. In fact, a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that, from 2005 to 2014, refugees contributed $63 billion more in taxes than they received in benefits.

But the real tragedy of Abbotts decision has nothing to do with dollars and cents. Its that were betraying our oldest ideals. From the beginning, Americans have opened their arms to persecuted men and women from every corner of the world who wanted nothing more than to start a new life in peace, freedom and opportunity. Thats the American way and the Texas way, since 1836. We hope Abbott reconsiders his decision and brings Texas government back into line with Texas values.

Siegel, Vice-Chair ADL Southwest Civil Rights Committee, and Bresner, ADL Jean & Jerry Moore Southwest Civil Rights Counsel.

Read the original post:
Taking in refugees has been part of Texas history since the Alamo [Opinion] - Houston Chronicle

Related Post

Comments

Comments are closed.