Other Voices

Abbott stokes fear and bigotry against refugees

A Syrian father holds his sleeping child on the Greek island of Lesbos after a trip by dinghy from the Turkish coast.
A Syrian father holds his sleeping child on the Greek island of Lesbos after a trip by dinghy from the Turkish coast. AP

Refugee Services of Texas extends its deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those whose lives were lost and those who were injured in Friday’s atrocity in Paris.

With the rest of the world, we share the grief of France. Like all Texans, we support all efforts to protect against terrorism.

However, we must be careful not to single out refugees who are resettled in the United States as bad actors, which some might construe from Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive on future resettlements of refugees from Syria.

In fact, three-fourths of refugees who were to be resettled from Syria are women and children seeking protection from ISIS terrorists.

Texas has a great heritage of welcoming refugees, who have been assisted by thousands of volunteers from faith-based organizations, civic groups and community organizations.

These refugees qualify for resettlement under the terms of the International Declaration of Human Rights.

Given existing security screening procedures for refugees, we believe the governor’s directive will serve no useful purpose but will stoke fear and bigotry toward refugees — prejudice that Americans, who comprise our nation of immigrants, have historically and categorically rejected.

Every year, the United States carefully screens, documents and resettles close to 70,000 refugees from countries all over the world.

Displaced as a result of violence or oppression, these refugees, through often-harrowing circumstances, were forced to leave everything behind, including loved ones, to find safety in a foreign land.

The United States celebrates a rich history of creating an environment where one can succeed through hard work and perseverance, regardless of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

In Texas, where jobs are abundant, housing available and cost of living affordable, some refugees have found an opportunity to rebuild their lives free from persecution and violence.

Refugees receive a minimal level of assistance through sponsoring agencies and must obtain employment and become fully self-sufficient, tax-paying community members within approximately six months, a daunting task for anyone.

And yet family after family succeeds in this effort, becoming homeowners, colleagues and some of the best students in our schools.

Most refugees go on to become U.S. citizens.

We urge Abbott to rescind his directive.

Additionally, we welcome and encourage independent reviews of the resettlement program because we see it working every day in the lives of hundreds of refugees, the employers they work for and the communities across Texas they call home that are enriched by their culture and invaluable contributions.

Fortunately, Texans understand the grave and urgent need to assist refugees from around the world who flee violence and oppression.

Without Texas’ wide-open arms, many refugees we now call neighbors might not be here today.

We as Texans have the unique opportunity to demonstrate compassion and lead the nation and the world by example as we welcome thousands of newcomers into our great state over the next few years.

Aaron C. Rippenkroeger is president and CEO of Texas Refugee Services.