Governor Greg Abbott's ban on resettling Syrians is off the mark, a minister to refugees says.
By WES MAGRUDER
Senior Pastor, Kessler Park UMC
On Saturday, November 14, 2015, Kessler Park UMC hosted its second annual “First Thanksgiving Meal” for more than 80 refugees and staff members of Refugee Services of Texas. Not only did we feed families a traditional American meal, but we also handed out coats, gloves and hats. Children clustered around a table where they made Thanksgiving bracelets with beads and trinkets; older kids kicked around a soccer ball outside. The atmosphere was celebratory, joyful, and full of life.
I spent time getting to know a man named Kamal from Kurdistan. He’s been in the United States since February. He marveled at the kindness of the church, at the warmth of our folks, and at his general impression of Christians in America. He asked for my email address; and later that evening, I received the following message from him, reprinted here exactly as he sent it:
“Dear Sir: I was very happy to be with you for today, I very enjoyed with you today. Today i find out the secret of secrets for the greatness and strength of America.
This secret is simply and goodness the people of America, and their quest for good, and helping the needy, and to give hope to the hopeless, and the presence of a charming smile on their faces.
America, you are very greatness, and this greatness does not come from a vacuum.
But your great people is the source and mystery of your greatness and strength.
I shared the message with the congregation in my sermon Sunday, and we all began the week with warm fuzzies.
Imagine our dismay then when we heard Governor Greg Abbott’s announcement Monday morning that Syrian refugees would not be welcome in Texas!
First of all, it must be understood that, fundamentally, the governor’s statement is pure political posturing. The authority to receive and place refugees is given solely to the executive branch of the federal government, thanks to the Refugee Act of 1980. Technically speaking, a governor cannot dictate refugee policy to the president.
The only thing a state can do is withhold its resources from the federal government and thereby make the task of resettling refugees difficult. Perhaps this is what Governor Abbott’s statement is meant to imply.
Furthermore, there appears to be a movement within the Republican Party to create legislation that would “pause” the president’s plan to settle Syrians until a more stringent screening process is put into place.
The problem is that the current refugee resettlement process is already incredibly stringent. According to Aaron Rippenkroeger, my friend and CEO of Refugee Services of Texas, “Refugees are the single-most scrutinized and vetted individuals to travel to the United States.”
The process takes a long time. Refugees who end up being resettled in a third country spend, on average, seven years in a refugee camp. Once a refugee applies for resettlement, the screening process takes 18 months to two years. The process will be no different for the Syrian refugees who come to America.
Governor Abbott said repeatedly Monday that his decision was about keeping Texans safe first and foremost. Certainly, we all would agree that safety is important. But the refusal to take in Syrians is a drastic overreaction to the news that a single ISIS militant sneaked into France as a refugee. The other attackers are believed to be European Union citizens, four of them French nationals.
And let’s be honest. This decision is not truly about keeping anyone safe. All but one of the 27 governors currently saying they will refuse Syrian refugees are Republican, which hints that this may be more about attacking a Democratic administration (and Democratic presidential candidates) than anything else.
To be frank, President Barack Obama’s plan to resettle 10,000 Syrians in 2016 is a woefully inadequate response to the crisis. Given that more than 100,000 refugees crossed through Europe in July alone, our response is shameful. We can easily resettle many more refugees in this broad country, and we should.
We are a country built by the strength and ingenuity of immigrants. That is a defining element of American prosperity. Governor Abbott’s recent proclamation is a betrayal of who we are as Americans, not to mention as United Methodist Christians.
“Perfect love casts out fear,” said John (I John 4:18). And while we certainly aren’t perfect yet, we’re supposed to be headed in that general direction.