In this week’s episode of the SignalCast, we spoke to Kirsten Myers, the area director for Refugee Services of Texas.
Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott became the first governor in the U.S. to block refugees fleeing political and religious persecution from resettling in Texas.
The move has since been put on hold by a federal court ruling temporarily blocking the Trump administration executive order that gave Abbott and other governors the ability to reject the refugee resettlement program in the first place.
The fate of the several thousand refugees who are welcomed in Texas each year by the federal program is still up in the air.
“It’s really not even a matter of Republican versus Democrat, it’s not a matter of religion,” Kirsten Myers, the area director for Refugee Services of Texas, told the Signal. “It’s really just welcoming people who are in need and that’s just based on morality.”
Refugee Services of Texas, the state’s largest resettlement agency, has helped more than 17,000 refugees resettle in the Lone Star State in the past decade. Their work helps them find employment, receive legal advice, medical help and learn English.
Myers said many of the refugees assisted by their program are fleeing from religious or political persecution and war. They hail from all over the world, like Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, and Venezuela.
“I think that Abbott himself is a little confused about the definition of a refugee,” Myers said. “I think he’s thinking more of ‘illegals,’ but refugees are people from other countries who go through an extensive background check process.”
Myers said it can take an average of two years for refugees to become vetted and gain entry into the U.S.
Texas is still welcoming these refugees, and if the temporary injunction is overturned, they will continue to be resettled in the state until June of this year.
Nothing stops these refugees– who have already been screened and given temporary legal status– from moving to Texas. Abbott’s decision does not block refugees from moving to Texas. Rather, it prevents them from being resettled via the federal refugee resettlement program.
Abbott has suggested Texas nonprofits who are helping refugees should instead help the homeless. His comments were quickly rebuked by nonprofits who told the governor they could not simply divert federal money that has already been reallocated specifically for refugees into other programs.
“A really good question to ask people who are very hesitant about refugee resettlement is, if you and your family were being prosecuted for your religious or political beliefs and possibly could be killed, would you not grab your family and go to a different country to save their lives as well?” Myers said.
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at email@example.com