Why Republican governors are choosing to keep their refugee resettlement programs

Elise on the playground with a refugee girl from the Congo.
These little ladies were inseparable.

Tucker Carlson – whose views I increasingly cannot stand – had a segment last night trying to “explain” why it was that most Republican governors have decided to continue and even expand refugee resettlement in their states. Of course, he didn’t know the answer, but he was perfectly fine leaving his audience with an outright lie.

Carlson found it counter-intuitive that Republican governors would choose to continue accepting refugees after President Trump signed an executive order last September that refugees could only be resettled in a jurisdiction if both state and local officials were on board. After all, some current and former Republican governors, including 2024 hopeful Nikki Haley, had lobbied aggressively for this measure. This was their opportunity finally to be free of the social and financial burdens refugees pose to local governments, and they rejected it.

Carlson concluded that Republican governors eventually decided to accept refugee resettlement programs for the financial assistance that accompanied them. Their motive was money, pure and simple, he suggested. As if getting $20,000 in aggregate to help deal with the costs of these programs were some serious consideration. Anyone who has worked in state government can tell you that’s not even a rounding error in the budget of a small agency, let alone something that would drive major policy decisions. It was a ludicrous and offensive claim, and honestly, I have no idea why conservatives continue to put up with Carlson’s bullshit anymore.

The reality of the refugee debate is that resettlement groups in the US primarily receive assistance from churches and religious groups. I know this because I have a lot of personal experience with these programs. My daughter and I volunteered with an ESL program for refugees coming over from the Democratic Republic of the Congo through the Catholic Church for a while. It was one of the most enlightening and fulfilling things I have ever done, and I highly recommend contributing to these causes.

The media loves to portray the refugee issue as a left-versus-right fight, and it’s not. It’s pretty much entirely a right-versus-right issue, with people who like and support Trump generally agreeing to disagree with him on this particular issue.

I guarantee you that very few of those lefty keyboard warriors on Twitter talking about Trump’s “Muslim ban” (most refugees coming into the US are not from Muslim countries – the US is nothing like Europe) have never lifted a finger to help refugees in their lives. It’s the gun-toting, Jesus-loving, Republican voters who are contributing their time and personal wealth to help with resettlement programs and they perceive these to be serious, life-altering causes.

Last year, 2,600 evangelicals participated in a drive to pressure Republican governors into continuing to accept refugees. These folks had established organizations devoted to helping refugees come over to the United States, and had worked aggressively through the bureaucratic maze across years to reunite families. They were not happy at all with the idea that their efforts would be destroyed:

The evangelical refugee resettlement agency World Relief and the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of evangelical organizations seeking comprehensive immigration reform, led an effort this past week to send joint letters to 15 state governors.

The letters call for the officials to permit the continued resettlement of refugees through the U.S. refugee admissions program in accordance with Trump’s Sept. 26 executive order giving states and localities the ability to block refugee resettlement. 

So far, 17 of the nation’s 50 governors have indicated that they will continue to allow refugee resettlement in the U.S., according to World Relief.  

One of the letters, which was signed by 294 evangelicals in the state, was sent to Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey before he gave consent last Friday to refugee resettlement in Arizona’s borders. 

Another letter, signed by 136 evangelicals in North Carolina, was sent to Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper, who gave his consent for resettlement in the Tar Heel State to the U.S. State Department on Tuesday. 

Other letters were sent to governors in California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. 

The letter warned state leaders that disruptions to the resettling process in their states could impact the “reunification of many families who have been waiting years to be reunited.”

The letters stress that if states block resettlement in their borders, families looking to be reunited will likely exercise their right to move to those states once they are resettled in the U.S. 

But in doing so, the letters stated, refugees will be forced to “move away from vital employment assistance, language acquisition and cultural adjustment resources offered by their resettlement organization.”

“Refugees can best integrate into the U.S. and quickly become financially self-sufficient when supported both by their family and by a local resettlement office,” the form letters state.

“As our state’s governor, we urge you to keep the option open for local communities within [the state] to continue to receive newly arrived refugees. As always, we are committed to praying for you as you lead our state.”

The letters received a combined total of 2,669 signatories, including 659 on the letter to Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee, 340 on the letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and 231 on the letter to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. 

“After being forced to leave their countries to escape war, persecution or natural disaster and being legally allowed entry to the U.S., the last thing refugees should have to experience is being denied access to communities in which they wish to dwell,” World Relief President Scott Arbeiter said in a statement. “Halting the resettlement of refugees to states will disrupt families and could lead to the end of vital ministries by local churches.”

The Congolese refugees we worked with were all very good and very kind people. Their lives had been displaced by violent conflicts over natural resources that are primarily used by people in rich western countries. (Those smartphones we love so much are ruining a lot of lives.)

They had taken enormous personal risks to come here with their children. Most of those children had not known any life beyond a refugee camp, though one family I met had been previously settled in Russia before coming to the United States. Their kids spoke a few African languages, French, some Russian, and were learning English through our program and public schools. It used to kill me when I’d hear adults talking down to them like they were stupid.

In many cases, the fathers had remained behind so their wives and children could have the opportunity at a new life. This is a horrible fact of refugee life in the United States. In many cases, these refugees are getting resettled in public housing projects, where they see gangs and drugs and often do not have a father figure to anchor them. But stuff like this gets completely lost in the idiotic propaganda wars coming out of Washington. That makes the roles of Christian groups even more important. (It’s also important to the lives of the US-born kids in the same projects.)

The amount of help these churches provide refugees is incredible. They offer English classes. They help them get their kids registered for school and work as liaisons with government agencies and social workers. They provide transportation to doctor’s appointments and to the grocery store. Heck, they even teach the refugees how to shop at a big-box grocery store, which is a phenomenon they have never seen. They provide them with food because benefits do not go very far. They help them obtain clothes for all of their kids, winter coats, and toys at holidays. And beyond all that, they are just there for them through whatever comes up. Volunteers went to refugee weddings and baptisms.

With all of the political division in this country, a lot of “aggressively online” people live in a world of caricatures. This is also true for people who only get their news from one news source. It’s not unique to the left, either. The fact that Tucker Carlson does not understand who is helping refugees in this country means he probably interacts with more liberals in the DC area than conservatives personally. He likes them, in theory, but he’s not visiting their churches.

You don’t have to be some open borders, “we are a nation of immigrants, so let everyone in” nut to support refugees. You can believe that the country should do a better job of vetting refugees and still believe refugees are worth helping. You can believe that locals should have a voice in accepting refugees and simultaneously hope they choose to help. There is room in this country for a continuum of beliefs on any subject, but especially on immigration.

14 thoughts on “Why Republican governors are choosing to keep their refugee resettlement programs

  1. The chap Tucker Carlson interviewed used much of the same dismissive vocabulary and talking points as the links you are sharing, which makes me think these hit pieces are coming from the same sources. For example, instead of talking about charities, they are talking about “resettlement contractors.” You are talking about churches where mission work is central to their belief systems, and in the case of evangelicals, an important rite of passage for children in becoming God-fearing adults. These are not for-profit entities competing for highway work. These are not people getting rich from rent-seeking enterprises. They are busting their asses to help people who are in real mortal danger in the service of Christ.

    I’m not all that surprised that there are people obsessed with recreationally “auditing” these groups though. I know a lot of atheists who can’t stand Catholic and other Christian charities because they think they are dangling out food (or education or other material goods) for people only if they convert. (Nevermind the fact that in the case of the Congo group, the refugees were already practicing – and devout at that – Christians.)

    I personally do not care that these groups are funded with taxpayer dollars. Compared with the other stuff our government spends money on, I’m not going to bitch about groups that are explicitly doing God’s work. In fact, a core conservative argument is that groups like churches and nonprofits are *better* at accomplishing a social safety nets than bureaucrats. This seems true from my own experiences. Beyond that, the New Testament treats charity as a command, not a suggestion. (Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Romans 12:13)

    Different churches – and different dioceses within the Catholic Church, which from a financial perspective is structured like a franchise – are going to have different approaches to dealing with the cost of resettling refugees. Some will have more internal resources than others. Applying for available federal grants allows those churches to redirect existing funds to other mission priorities as well, which expands the reach of the church’s humanitarian efforts. Without investing the effort into understanding how all of these churches work mechanically and where their funding comes from, I have no idea how anyone makes such generalizations about these groups financially. I would submit to you, however, that someone who has already decided to hate resettlement groups is not a good source of information. That’s sort of like asking a New York Times reporter for information about the Trump White House.

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    1. I feel like I can see both sides of the problem in many ways… and don’t worry! I knew we might have had differing opinions on this topic! I really wanted to know your opinion on it.

      I can see how an influx of people who have different morals and values than we do can dramatically change the fabric of our communities. I think the woman who’s blog I linked to is more worried about how little Christian refugees they’re bringing, compared to other religions and cultures, especially Islam. I haven’t looked into it recently though to see if the numbers have changed, but a few years ago we were hardly helping Christian refugees *at all,* which seemed morally bankrupt.

      But I definitely agree with what you’re saying that the New Testament commands Christians to care for the poor and needy, and look out for them. The problem I see with using tax payer money is that the helping is being forced. Even in the Old Testament when God commanded His people to leave excess grain around the edges of their fields for the immigrant and impoverished to glean so they’d have food, He didn’t force them to, or appoint people who would tax them if they didn’t, etc. (side note- not trying to make this about taxes though! Of course Jesus said to pay our taxes – give to Caesar what is his). Just trying to point out the issue gets muddled when it’s forced charity somewhat. Although I can see how to some degree, that wouldn’t be a bad thing, and is **certainly** nothing like forced tax-payer funded abortion.

      Thank you for replying with your thoughts though! I was very interested how you’d see it!

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      1. I have heard people saying that we were hardly helping Christians, and I have no idea where that narrative is coming from. Congolese refugees have made up most of the refugees brought into the US, and they are definitely Christians.

        Here is a Pew Research piece providing data on the origins of refugees at the beginning of Trump’s presidency. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/02/03/where-refugees-to-the-u-s-come-from/

        Trump dramatically decreased the number of refugees coming into the country from all places, but 70% are now Christians. Of course, not included as a caveat in that piece is that Democrats and Republicans were fighting the issue of refugees from states producing terrorists all the way to the Supreme Court in the meantime. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/10/07/key-facts-about-refugees-to-the-u-s/

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      2. “I have heard people saying that we were hardly helping Christians, and I have no idea where that narrative is coming from. ”

        ^^That’s wonderful about the Congolese. I do know though, that our city semi-recently brought a group in from there and placed them downtown, where they became homeless and it’s truly awful. I’ve seen the effects myself because we used to love date nights downtown, but I’ve actually had 2 experiences in 2019 where a gang fight literally broke up right in front of me (only once was my husband there). It was terrifying – not that that exacctly has to do with the Congolese, except that they’ve been dumped in the midst of gang activity and drugs and homelessness.

        When they were first brought here, many people in our city were worried about them carrying the ebola virus, because for their communities in their homeland, the virus seems to have a different longevity and durability than previously studied in other areas.

        Oh! And meant to add that historically, our government has looked the other way when Christians are being persecuted and basically under the weight of a genocide. So historically it seems as though we haven’t helped Christian refugees as much as say Israel has in liberating them, or getting involved almost at all in their crises.

        I couldn’t find the facts on the different religions being admitted from the site you recommended, sorry if I missed it (will look again, too, later on when I have more time).

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      3. I should add, I haven’t researched the issue as much. The CDC of course believes they have vetted them enough, however I found this particular group was arrested at Texas’ southern border back in May 2019, so it looks like they were trying to cross illegally, and then must have received asylum and were unexpectedly sent to our city (which really didn’t have the room – hence how I’m guessing many became homeless).

        Either way I guess that’s a different issue than religious groups receiving them, having a place for them, and helping them get on their feet. It appears these came of their own accord through our border.

        https://www.kens5.com/article/news/local/parle-vous-francais-city-searches-for-french-speakers-as-hundreds-of-congolese-asylum-seekers-head-to-sa/273-0c015995-05b2-4a0e-959b-fdc1d2991d6f

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      4. Found some more stats on the Pew Reearch site looking at actual numbers/percentages, etc. on the religions being admitted, so please disregard the other comment remarking that!

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      5. This was a picture of some in our city… not sure if it’s verified, but it’s what we saw a lot personally after the news reported them being here. And the news *did* say they weren’t supposed to be staying, but realistically I’m not sure how well organized it was to find them better places, since even the migrant center wasn’t able ot house all of them at first, and for the length of time they’d need. Just a mess!

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      6. I think it is a huge deal that resettlement agencies tend to place them in housing projects in urban areas, where all housing options (even very bad ones) are super expensive and they are inevitably going to be surrounded by bad actors. I do not understand the decision to do this at all, except that this is the way our country’s affordable housing infrastructure is already established. Many of these refugees are not from urban areas in their own countries, it’s a totally foreign experience for them in more than the obvious ways. They’d honestly probably be better situated with churches in rural areas that seem more familiar in terms of customs and strong family ties. But that’s a problem with the way the programs are administered from the top down, not with the people who need the program and are just trying to get by the best they can in what feels like a different planet.

        I think ultimately, however, the big issue is why aren’t we stopping the circumstances that are leading to so many people being violently displaced. As much as people complain about conflict with Iran, there would probably be half a million Syrians still alive and millions of Syrians doing just fine at home if we had taken out Iranian warlords earlier and not gotten involved in decades-long proxy wars that achieve nothing because they insulate, protect, and even continue to fund the root cause of war and terrorism in the region. Ditto with the Congo and Somalia. We can do the best we can to help refugees, but it would be better if they did not have to start life again on the other side of the world in the first place.

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  2. Also, I don’t think Trump himself has a problem with providing assistance to refugees generally. I think that is a misunderstanding (that is made both by some on the right and Orange Man Bad hyenas on the left) of what his objections to resettlement programs were. He’s not exactly going to war with Republican governors over this. He was looking at European countries who – as a matter of fact, not opinion – had admitted terrorists into their countries via their resettlement system, if one can even call it a system. Because of the structure of the EU, they were allowed to live in Europe until they were activated for attacks. And they were able to radicalize other legitimate refugees, who because of the scale the problem were living in poverty and were dealing with all the resentment and social ills that come with that circumstance. These are legitimate concerns about how resettlement programs should be operated. The success of these programs as a practical matter depends on their not being susceptible to manipulation by destructive groups.

    But the only way to have a successful refugee program overall is to have the program be strong enough – philosophically, financially, logistically – to make a smooth integration of these folks possible. This means bringing them into a real, anti-fragile community that is going to have their back and help bring up their kids with American values and opportunities. Not one that is going to dump them in a housing project and forget them, then freak out because the kids turn out the same way as any American forced to live in squalor and violence. That’s what the secular humanists in Europe did, and their failures have been entirely predictable.

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    1. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said in this last comment! Those were actually my exact thoughts 10 years ago. We were working for an apartment company as retention specialists who helped the management figure out how to better retain tenants, and we had a community of refugees living down the street from where apartments were. One of our duties was to have weekly get-togethers (breakfasts, dinners, movie nights, etc.) and community outreach opportunities, and one Christmas we decided to collect donated gifts for the refugees and their children so that we could deliver them together as a community. It was a wonderful experience, but yet another reminder that we weren’t really doing a great job as a country (or refugee resettlement program – whichever one it was at that time and place) in helping them have even simple things like beds and bedding! But helping them was wonderful, and I can see the value in having children experience that opportunity as well.

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      1. I have always admired denominations (Evangelicals, Mormons) that include regular mission opportunities for kids and young adults. I think having the perspective of what life is like in another country is important, and it helps kids appreciate what makes the United States exceptional too. Mission work provides a more realistic picture of life in other countries than other programs, whether your mission work is abroad or here with a group that has relocated. Sure, folks can send their kid to study abroad, but that’s kind of a privileged and spoiled look at life abroad, and even then it’s centered on campus life, which isn’t all that different than campus life here.

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