Big-Hearted Texas vs. Mean-Hearted Texas

It’s a tale of two states.

In the headlines right now, it’s the Texas whose governor, Greg Abbott, shut the door on refugees last week, the first state to do so. The governor took advantage of a September decree by President Trump, which allows state and local governments to opt out of refugee resettlement.

Update: A federal judge has temporarily blocked the order allowing states to refuse to accept refugees.

But there’s another Texas, a big-hearted Texas, a Texas with a heart so big that in 2016, it was second only to California when it came to welcoming refugees. Here’s more on big-hearted Texas.

In December 2019, the Dallas County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to continue to resettle refugees; part of that resolution included a motion from Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins urging Gov. Abbott to support continued refugee resettlement in Texas. That followed similar moves by the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth. Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price urged the governor to continue to allow refugee resettlement in November.

Abbott is an exception, most Republican governors (in fact most states) have approved a continued welcome for refugees in their states.

And there has been an explosion of protests to Abbott’s action. The Fort Worth Telegram lamented how Abbott has made Texas a first in the nation in a new way. Texas bishops criticized the governor, who is Catholic. The bishops issued a statement saying “As Catholics, an essential aspect of our faith is to welcome the stranger and care for the alien.” Refugee advocates also protested the move.

Abbott’s decision focuses attention on a mean-spirited shutting of the gates, and diverts attention from efforts by people like the members of Northwest Bible Church, a 2,000-member church in Dallas. A few years ago the church was approaching its 65th birthday, and it did some soul-searching. The congregation asked itself, “What does God for us have for us today?” said Brian Newby, then the church’s outreach minister. I interviewed Newby for my book, How the Refugee Crisis Unites Americans: the Untold Story of the Grass Roots Movement Shattering Our Red and Blue Silos. Northwest Bible decided to up its focus on refugees and put its resources–dollars and people power–toward the creation of the Northwest Community Center. The NCC will be four years old in February. It’s a three-story, 55,000-square building located in Vickery Meadows, a neighborhood made up mostly of refugees and other immigrants.

Among the partners who have or are operating programs there are Refugee Services of Texas, the IRC, Healing Hands Ministries (which provides primary medical care), and Hope Supply Co. (which partners with the NCC to distribute items such as diapers, wipes, baby shampoo, and similar products). A back-to-school campaign by the Dallas mayor’s office provided school supplies and immunizations for students at the NCC. Corporations including Frost Bank, Panera, and Texas Health Resources have helped sponsor NCC events like World Refugee Day. Others have contributed to the IRC’s graduation celebration, which is held at the NCC.

Refugees attend ESL language programs and job readiness training (one program the church provides). A huge measure of success is that 85 percent of those who go through the job readiness training have a job within three weeks of completing the program. Kids attend after-school tutoring programs. Mothers can work during school hours at the Vickery Trading Company. In classic incubator style, more refugee service providers are leasing space on other floors.

Even as do-gooders like the volunteers and agencies who help refugees build new lives in the United States, other refugee advocacy groups–most with some religious foundation–have launched an effort in the courts challenging the Trump order that allowed Gov. Abbott to shut the doors on refugees in Texas.

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