Tuning out the Super Bowl

Cynthia M. Allen

FORT WORTH, Texas (Tribune News Service) — What was on Gov. Greg Abbott’s mind when he decided that Texas would opt out of resettling international refugees in 2020?

My guess is that it wasn’t his faith.

The state’s Catholic Conference of Bishops was quick to remind Abbott, a practicing Roman Catholic, that “an essential aspect of our faith is to welcome the stranger and care for the alien.”

Fort Worth’s own Bishop Michael Olson, a personal friend of the governor, implored Abbott to reverse his decision, “for the sake of peace, and for the sake of Texas.” He didn’t say, “for his own sake,” but some things are implied.

Abbott frequently evokes his Catholicism in making policy decisions, like when it comes to his strong (and correct) stance on abortion. Why not this time?

If Abbott was eschewing his otherwise conspicuous faith in shutting Texas’s doors to future refugees, it appears he wasn’t guided by prudence, either.

The pragmatic executive should have known his decision could be costly to Texas and its nonprofits.

“We expect secondary migration from (surrounding) states to bring some refugees to Fort Worth and all of Texas,” explained Olson in a written statement.

Texas, as Abbott knows, is a great place to live, with plenty of opportunity for those eager to work hard and live free. Which is probably why Texas generally resettles more refugees than any other state.

But, as Shannon Rosedale, Project Coordinator at Catholic Charities Fort Worth explains, if Texas is not recognized as a resettlement site, secondary migrants moving to the state will not be able to transfer their federal resettlement funds to organizations that help refugees assimilate to life in the U.S.

“We would have to use our own funding to cover or help them,” Rosedale said.

Catholic Charities Fort Worth is one of the most effective charities in the business; it boasts self-sufficiency and employment within six months of arrival for 96 percent of refugees it resettles. Why should it have to divert precious resources from its other poverty-reducing programs?

Bonus: High levels of self-sufficiency mean lower crime and less need for government assistance, too.

If faith and frugality were absent when Abbott made his decision about refugees, law and order could not have been top of mind, either.

Regardless of where you stand on immigration reform, it’s undeniable that people who cross the border illegally or overstay visas — even for noble or sympathetic reasons — are in violation of our laws. So it’s understandable that Abbott, as governor of state that houses an estimated 1.6 million unauthorized migrants, would take a hard line against illegal immigration.

But refugees aren’t trying to evade the law. They are a special class of people who have been vetted and invited to enter the U.S., in many cases to avoid religious persecution. In other cases, they assisted the U.S. government at great personal risk and can no longer return to their countries of origin.

Ask any veteran who served in Afghanistan or Iraq if their translator wouldn’t have crawled through hot coals for them. Those are the kind of people we’re talking about.

Abbott’s critics say his decision was nakedly political; pandering of the worst kind — to President Donald Trump, perhaps? But Abbott’s not in danger of losing his office or falling out of favor with the president. And the claims of some pollsters that his decision is more in line with Texas Catholics than the church’s leaders are highly dubious (at least to this Catholic conservative).

Of course, none of this will matter if the preliminary injunction blocking Trump’s executive order that gave Abbott the ability to deny refugee resettlement is upheld.

Still, I’d like to know what Abbott was thinking.

For his own sake, I hope he thinks again.

Cynthia M. Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may send emails to cmallen@star-telegram.com. Visit Fort Worth Star-Telegram at www.star-telegram.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency. © 2020 Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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