By Caleb Gates, Refugee Case Manager and Advocacy Specialist
The Catherine McAuley Center strongly condemns Governor Abbott’s decision to refuse to allow new refugees to resettle in Texas. Governor Abbott’s decision to reject refugees was enabled by President Trump’s executive order which allows governors or local officials to forbid new refugees from being resettled in that state or locality. President Trump argues that allowing state and local governments to refuse refugees is necessary to protect national security and improve local control, but this executive order is cruel and likely to be unlawful.
Refugees are some of the most vulnerable people in the world, and they come to this country because they had a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country due to who they are or what they believe. These refugees had to flee their own country to protect themselves. They want safety, freedom, and the chance to build a life for themselves and their children. Forbidding refugees from being resettled in Texas is cruel and unnecessary.
The refugee resettlement process is effective and safe. Every refugee is thoroughly screened and vetted before arriving in the United States. This was the case under President Obama and previous administrations. Since 1980, more than 3 million refugees have come to this country and during that time, no American citizen was killed in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee. A refugee is far less likely to commit a crime than someone born in the United States. These refugees have enhanced our country, our culture, and our economy.
The Refugee Act of 1980 gives authority on implementation of refugee resettlement to Congress and the federal government, not state and local governments. While the President has the authority to determine the number of refugees allowed into the country each year, the law does not allow the President to delegate veto power to state and local governments over refugee resettlement. President Trump claims this change was needed to protect national security, the same argument that the President used to implement the 2017 travel ban, which banned people from several Muslim-majority countries. This legal authority undermines President Trump’s executive order because if banning refugees is a matter of national security, then states and local governments cannot ban refugees because states and local governments have no authority over matters of national security. In this instance, Governor Abbott is overriding local control because the mayors of Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio have all given their endorsement to continue refugee resettlement in those cities.
The argument for local control as a basis for vetoing refugee resettlement recalls shameful chapters in the history of our country. Before and during the Civil Rights era, the local control argument was used to allow state and local governments to protect segregation of black Americans from white Americans. At many points in our history, going back to at least the early 1800s, state and local governments used local control to prevent or restrict immigrants from settling within those jurisdictions or denying full civil and civic rights to those groups.
As of this writing, a Federal judge has temporarily blocked Governor Abbott’s order from going into effect while litigation is pending. We applaud this temporary injunction and we encourage the courts to overrule President Trump’s executive order. Refugee resettlement benefits Texas, just as it benefits Iowa. Refugee resettlement benefits our culture and our economy.
We applaud Governor Reynolds, as well as leaders of Linn, Johnson, Black Hawk, Louisa, Polk, Dallas, and Warren counties for their consent and continued support of refugee resettlement here in Iowa. Such support exemplifies Iowa’s commitment to being a welcoming state and upholding the best of ideals of what it means to be American.