Ten Dallas refugee, immigrant and religious organizations spoke in unified opposition Friday to Gov. Greg Abbott's refusal last week to continue accepting refugees to Texas.
In a joint press conference, representatives of those agencies, who collectively offer housing, job, language, legal, social and general support to refugees and other displaced people, spoke directly to Abbott, arguing that refugees are an asset to Texas and asking him to reconsider his decision no longer to be a resettlement location for refugees.
“Today, we have a large multifaith, multicultural group of people coming together ... to stand united to let the world know that Texas welcomes refugees of all backgrounds. And that we unequivocally condemn and stand against the governor's decision to not allow refugees to come to our great state,” said Faizan Syed, executive director of the Texas DFW chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Abbott was able to reject refugees in the first place because President Donald Trump issued an executive order last year stating that all states that wanted to continue to resettle refugees would need to essentially sign up to continue doing so, i.e., to opt in to the program. Although Abbott's decision has been put on hold by a preliminary injunction against the executive order, the court's decision could be overturned or appealed, which would resume his ban on refugees.
“One of the guiding principles of our founding fathers, a moral imperative and the framework of our nation was to ensure that the United States be a country of refuge. That's who we are, that's what our country stands for,” said Laila Whitman Rumsey, director of the Dallas chapter of the Muslim American Society's Public Affairs and Civic Engagement division.
Rumsey went on to invoke the preamble of the U.S. Constitution: “Welcoming refugees gives us a more perfect union, promotes our general welfare and secures the blessing of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.”
Leroy Peña, the national director of the Red Handed Warrior Society, an indigenous people's advocacy group, also looked back to the beginning of the United States to articulate how Abbott's response to refugees flies contrary to the values of the country.
“Those passengers on the Mayflower were escaping religious persecution much like today's refugees and immigrants. Now what does that say about us?” Peña said.
Advocates and agency heads one by one called out Abbott's ban as shameful, detrimental to Texas and contrary to the state's values. Until Abbott's decision, Texas resettled roughly 9% of all refugees who come to the United States annually. Advocates say that refugees contribute far more to the local economy and culture than they take away, even if they initially require support while getting settled in the U.S.
“It's unfortunate that Gov. Abbott once again chose to make Texas distinct with its hate,” said Imam Omar Suleiman, founder and president of Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research and Faith Forward Dallas.
Suleiman, like other speakers, compared the present government policies toward refugees with those during the 1930s and 1940s, in which the country rejected many Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust.
“Gov. Abbott's decision to not accept refugees is one of the darkest stains in Texas history,” said Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens.
He compared Abbott's rejection of refugees with innkeepers who turned away Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. He noted that, under Abbott's rejection, Christians fleeing religious persecution in Iraq would not be eligible to settle in Texas.
“That is un-Christian, that is un-Texas, un-American, cheap politics being played by Gov. Abbott,” Garcia said.
He also brought as a guest and additional speaker, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who led the Dallas County Commissioner's Court in a unanimous resolution approving refugee resettlement in the county. Jenkins lambasted Abbott's decision as politically motivated and pandering.
“And you might say, well judge, you shouldn't talk about politics … folks, it is politics that got us to this place. There is no security reason whatsoever to turn your back on refugee families,” he said.
Jenkins also discussed a number of impressive refugees and immigrants he has met recently, including Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, an Iranian American who fled to America with his parents as a child. Refugees come to this country looking to contribute talent and make it better, he said.
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Fuad Dadabhoy, executive director of Ma'ruf Dallas, said his organization's clients come to him eager to support themselves and begin giving back to the country. His organization focuses on job placement for refugees and other displaced groups of people. About 94% of them become self-sufficient, he said.
“Almost always, the first question is, 'When can I start working?' They're not looking for a handout,” Dadabhoy said.
Throughout the event, speakers lauded the benefits of immigrants and refugees to this country and spoke disparagingly about what they perceive as politically driven fear-mongering that disregards the human cost of rejecting refugees.
“Gov. Abbott, your decision to not welcome refugees to the great state of Texas is immoral, un-American and unconscionable. To demonize the most vulnerable members of our society goes against all of our values as Texans and as Americans," Syed said. "We call on you to reconsider, to change your mind."