Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced on Friday that Texas will be pulling out of the Refugee Resettlement Program.
This announcement does not mean refugees will not be resettled in Texas. Far from it. Refugee agencies and the refugee support community are preparing for the fact that more refugees will come to Texas; there is a chance that the federal government, in a desire to let the Texas government know that they cannot pull such political stunts, will even resettle more refugees in coming months than they have in years past.
Refugees are still coming to Texas.
But unfortunately refugees are, once again, pawns in the hands of government brawls. There will be no civil war in this situation, like there were in the countries they fled, but this decision is baffling at best and horrifying at worst for those of us who work with, know, and love refugees in Texas.
With refugees still coming, what Governor Abbott has done is hike up the rhetoric to play on the fears that are already rampant in our state. The state of Texas is officially going on record as saying they don’t want refugees and they don’t support them.
The people who pay the price will be the resilient, creative, trauma-affected, outstandingly brave refugees who fled violence, persecution, and death to save themselves and their families.
The people who are not going anywhere are the the overworked, underpaid, brilliant, subversive, and valiant case workers, educators, volunteers, and advocates whose job just got a lot more complicated.
These people are some of my dearest friends, refugees and advocates alike.
Let me tell you now, they are fierce. They are fierce like Texans have always been fierce. Whether Governor Abbott acknowledges them are not, these refugees become Texans. There are thousands of Texans who were once refugees. And Texans will be the first to tell you: we are loving, hospitable, kind, and we sure as heck do not back down from what we know is right.
We will not–WE WILL NOT–stop fighting with everything we have on behalf of refugees in Texas.
Here’s what you can do:
- Educate yourself and the people around you. Know the terms.
- Immigrants are people who come to our country from another country; in Texas and other border states, we are constantly aware of the undocumented immigrants in our state. I have been an immigrant in several different countries.
- Asylum-seekers are immigrants, some of whom cross our Texas border (usually from Cuba or Central America), but most of whom sought asylum in other countries (those are the waves of people you see in Europe–part of our knee-jerk reaction is a response to the asylum-seekers in Europe. We have been influenced by Brexit and by other xenophobic, anti-asylum-seeker rhetoric, which has nothing to do with the refugees coming to Texas.)
- Refugees are immigrants who were once asylum-seekers. In order to be given the official title “refugee,” they go through an extensive vetting system. When I say extensive, I mean VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY thorough. It takes years to be granted refugee status. I don’t care what you’ve heard on the news; what is driving most of us so bananas is that it would be much easier for a terrorist to come over here as a French citizen than as a refugee. Why would terrorists want to spend years having the United Nations High Commission for Refugees go through every piece of their life? They would not. My academic and professional term to describe this whole kerfuffle in Texas is simple: this is really dumb.
- Do the math: Of the 65+ million refugees in the world, less than 1% are eligible for resettlement. That means that the people who are coming to Texas are truly the people who need to be resettled. They have proven to the very thorough UNHCR people that if they were to go back to their countries, they will be persecuted or will die based on one of five different things: their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. These are truly the people in need of a new home, new lives, new spaces with friendly people to let them be and let them build.
- Tell your friends. Rally in support of refugees. At this point, the Texas government has done what the Texas government will do. I’ve been in the meetings where refugees agencies have thrown their hands up and brainstormed and teared up trying to figure out how to get the Texas governor and legislature to really understand who in the world we are talking about–not terrorists, but the victims of terrorism. But that time is done. Now we need to rally behind Refugees Services of Texas and Caritas of Austin and iAct and Multicultural Refugee Coalition of Texas and other groups throughout the state whose work just got way more complicated.
- When you tell your friends, here’s what you say:
- Refugees are the victims of, not the perpetrators of violence. Always. They are the victims and we are blaming them for the violence in their countries.
- Refugees flee because they have no other choice. They are not coming here to take away jobs or to become terrorists (again, French citizens, y’all–why refugees?). Most refugees I know wish more than anything else they could have stayed in their home countries; they often become US citizens and love their adopted homeland, but they’re coming because they literally have no. other. choice.
- If I were in their shoes, I would flee too. Anyone would. I love my babies. I would save them from anything. That’s what refugees have done. Their choice is simple: life or death. They choose life and then get blamed for it.
- Refugees have been thoroughly vetted. No matter what the news says. The news wants us all fearful because when we’re fearful, we watch the news. I’m not going to let fear win anymore.
- When you rally, here’s what you do:
- Call RST and Caritas and see what they need. Do you have a church group or a group of friends looking to help? Or are you ready to do more than feel bad? Call them. They might need funds. They might need people to help a family furnish and move into an apartment. They might need friends or advocates. They might need people to drive refugees to the doctor or to appointments or help them fill out Medicaid. If they tell you they’re swamped with volunteers right now, call iAct and MRC. Tell them you’ll wait a few weeks and then call back. Tell the people at RST and Caritas and iAct and Caritas that they should be making millions of dollars taking care of the displaced people in the world and you support them. Maybe take them coffee or drop of Target gift cards or just tweet at them that they’re the heroes of your world. They are the heroes of mine.
- Buy products from Open Arms, Noonday, and Newton Supply Company, companies who employ refugees. Also, get some great stuff. Win-win. (Here’s a fun podcast of one of my dear friends, a refugee who works at Noonday, and I talking with Jessica Honegger, Noonday’s founder, about what a good job means for one refugee family.)
- Think about whether your company could employ refugees. I’m happy to make this stereotypical statement–refugees are the hardest working people I know. I have literally never met a refugee who wouldn’t do anything, and I mean anything, to support their families. If they have already fled certain death, becoming a painter or a plumber or a busboy at a restaurant is nothing. They want stability and a chance to breathe for a minute. There is no better thing you can do that help them have employment than allows them to have self-respect and enough money to put down roots. Again, call RST or Caritas and ask them if your company might be a good fit.
- Be ready to have your life changed. Some of my closest friends are refugees. We aren’t helper and helped, we’re just dear friends. They are wickedly funny and warm and kind and so fun to be with. Don’t show up ready to feel good about yourself as a helper, show up ready to make a friend with someone who will teach you something about the world.
- Want to get political?
For 40+ years, Texas has led the way in hospitality for people who were persecuted and killed because they were different. As a lifelong Texan, I am heartsick.
Y’all. This is not the way we as Texans respond to injustice. We know how to do what’s right.
Pass on this information and help educate the people in your circle–Texans are not giving up.
WE WILL NOT ABANDON REFUGEES.