Washington D.C., Jan 21, 2020 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- A federal judge’s ruling has halted President Donald Trump’s executive order that allows states and localities to refuse permission for refugee resettlement. The ruling drew praise from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which stressed the need to help refugees to safety and to maintain a uniform refugee policy.
“Today’s ruling is a welcome step in our ongoing ministry to provide refugees, who are fleeing religious persecution, war, and other dangers, with safe haven here in the United States,” said Bishop Mario Dorsonville, an auxiliary bishop of Washington who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration.
“Jesus Christ, who was part of a refugee family, calls us to welcome the stranger, and our pro-life commitment requires us to protect refugees,” he said Jan. 17, adding, “the Church looks forward to continue working with communities across America to welcome refugees as we uphold the dignity of all human life.”
U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte temporarily blocked Executive Order 13888, issued Sept. 26, 2019, which requires written consent from states and local entities before groups may begin to resettle refugees within their boundaries.
The order “does not appear to serve the overall public interest,” said the judge. Messitte, citing a law review article, said there is a public interest in preventing the president from “slipping the boundaries of a statutory policy and acting based on irrelevant policy preferences,” CNN reports.
The judge said the order wrongfully gave to state and local government the power to veto refugee resettlement “in the face of clear statutory text and structure, purpose Congressional intent, executive practice, judicial holdings and Congressional doctrine to the contrary.”
In response, the Trump administration said, “This is a preposterous ruling, one more example of nationwide district court injunctions run amok, and we are expeditiously reviewing all options to protect our communities and preserve the integrity of the refugee resettlement process.”
Pending the outcome of the legal case, HIAS Inc., et al v. Trump, the order will not take effect. Resettlement programs will operate under the rules prior to the order.
Dorsonville noted the Catholic bishops’ previous “deep concerns” about the executive order.
“We feared the negative consequences for refugees and their families as this Executive Order would have created a confusing patchwork across America of some jurisdictions where refugees are welcomed, and others where they are not,” he said.
He said the injunction “helps to maintain a uniform national policy of welcome to refugees and serves to maintain reunification of refugee families as a primary factor for initial resettlement.”
Dorsonville cited “robust bipartisan support” for refugees in the wake of the order, noting 42 governors and many local officials said they would approve initial resettlement.
“Once more, we see the intention to act united as a nation in the effort to provide solidarity to those who need it most and are encouraged by the compassion that this nation has towards refugees,” Dorsonville said.
The U.S. bishops said that federal officials will “diligently engage” with state and local officials to ensure local concerns are taken into account, but federal officials will have the final decision over refugee resettlement.
Gov. Gregg Abbott of Texas said Jan. 10 that Texas will not participate in the refugee resettlement program this fiscal year.
“At this time, the state and nonprofit organizations have a responsibility to dedicate available resources to those who are already here, including refugees, migrants, and the homeless—indeed, all Texans,” he said in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He said Texas has already been forced to “deal with disproportionate migration issues,” which he blamed on federal inaction and a broken immigration system.
He cited May 2019 figures indicating about 100,000 migrants were detained crossing Texas’ southern border.
Refugee resettlement in Texas peaked in 2009, when about 8,212 people were resettled. About 7,500 people were resettled in Texas per year from 2012-2016, the Texas Tribune reports.
The Texas Catholic bishops said the governor’s decision was “deeply discouraging and disheartening.” They asked the governor to reconsider his decision, noting that refugees contribute a great deal to society.
“While the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops respects the governor, this decision is simply misguided,” they said. “It denies people who are fleeing persecution, including religious persecution, from being able to bring their gifts and talents to our state and contribute to the general common good of all Texans.”
“As Catholics, an essential aspect of our faith is to welcome the stranger and care for the alien,” said the Texas bishops.
In a Jan. 16 letter to the editor of the Miami Herald, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami criticized Abbott’s decision and noted the longtime work of Catholic Charities in Florida. The agency helped unaccompanied minors from Cuba in the 1960s, resettled refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in the 1970s, and participated in the federal refugee resettlement program since it began in 1980.
He stressed the security of the vetting policies already conducted by the United States’ government. He said refugees have to meet established criteria such as fleeing religious persecution or political violence.
“Often mentored by church volunteers and given resettlement support, refugees and their family quickly integrate into American society, finding work and making a positive contribution to their adopted country,” Wenski said.
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