Texas Governor Greg Abbot told non-profits agencies and faith-based organizations to stop work with Syrian refugees or he will pull funding to those groups that come through the state.
A letter from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission went out to several local non-profits this week asking the organizations to comply with the Governor’s request by Friday afternoon (November 20).
However, some say it comes across as an ultimatum: comply or risk funding.
“It puts them in a situation that I think is very uncomfortable,” said immigration attorney Gordon Quan regarding the letter. “This is basically saying, ‘Don’t do resettlement. If you do resettlement of these Syrian refugees, you may be endangering the whole program that you have’.”
The letters could affect programs at organizations like Interfaith Ministries, Catholic Charities and YMCA International Services just to name a few.
Quan explains that programs could be endangered by losing funds to keep them running. Although refugee resettlement costs are funded by the federal government, Quan says the state has the ability not to accept the funds; essentially that could cut these organizations off at the knees.
The Board of Directors for Texas Impact, an interfaith public policy group, wrote the following letter in response to the governor’s directive:
Texas Impact’s board of directors expresses our grave distress regarding Governor Abbott’s letter, dated November 17, instructing the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to issue directives to local faith-based organizations active in refugee resettlement regarding the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Texas.
We are deeply concerned that the Governor’s letter directs those agencies to interfere with the religious freedom of faith-based humanitarian agencies working in Texas. As we read the Governor’s letter, he appears to be directing state agencies to pressure faith-based organizations to violate the sincerely held beliefs of their religious traditions.
We also are deeply concerned that the Governor’s directive to HHSC and DPS will create an untenable conflict for faith-based organizations between directives from the federal agency responsible for refugee resettlement funding and policy in Texas, and the state agency that bears responsibility for awarding a portion of the federal funds.
Attorneys for denominational humanitarian agencies have shared additional concerns regarding unanswered legal questions relating to the Governor’s directive. Those attorneys echo our concerns that the directive infringes on constitutional liberties.