Gov. Abbott Should Respect Religious Freedom of Texas Host Agencies

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Governor Greg Abbott knows that Texas is at the forefront of our country’s migration crisis. Most recently he joined former President Donald Trump on the southern Texas border to denounce the Biden administration’s approach to border security.

Governor Abbott has witnessed the damage caused by cartels, gang members, smugglers and other criminals. Amid the highest levels of border arrests in decades, the border patrol is overwhelmed by the numbers of migrants – and especially child migrants – it must deal with. Our border officials need help, as do migrants who must be accommodated in safe and humane conditions while being treated under the terms of US law.

Fortunately, Texas has a strong network of child welfare service providers, including a significant number of biblically motivated Christian agencies ready to step up and help meet this challenge by housing children. vulnerable in partnership with the federal government.

There’s just one problem: Governor Abbott won’t let them.

Governor Abbott Executive Decree early this year will deprive the Texas child welfare system of its ability to deal with migrant children. Under Abbott’s order, the 52 Texas organizations that partner with the federal government to house migrant children now risk losing their state licenses if they continue to do so after August 30.

This order not only compromises the state’s ability to take a comprehensive approach to the border; it also unnecessarily harms migrant children who have nothing to do with the border security issues Governor Abbott is campaigning against.

I have devoted much of my life to defending human dignity. Having spent years in the pro-life movement, the evangelical church and the foster care space, I am heartbroken by Governor Abbott’s approach. Every state has an obligation to take care of its citizens, of course, but from a Christian’s point of view, all children are of equal importance to God and therefore should be to us as well.

The Bible teaches that the heart of God is inclined towards the vulnerable, including residents, the homeless, and orphans. When we see vulnerable children, we have a responsibility to act. Children arriving at our border have already experienced the severe trauma of fleeing their homes and having made a difficult journey to the United States. If Governor Abbott bars small licensed shelters and foster families from providing care, we will only add to this trauma.

Thanks to my work at Welcome womenI heard horrible testimonials on the conditions to which migrant children may be subjected in border patrol facilities and unlicensed centers. Under no circumstances can we view these prison-like facilities as a viable alternative to state-approved specialist care.

Young unaccompanied migrants, aged 3 to 9, watch TV inside a children’s park at the Donna Department of Homeland Security detention center, the main detention center for unaccompanied children in the Rio Grande Valley in Donna, Texas, March 30, 2021. Minors are separated from the rest of the inmates.
Dario Lopez-Mills / POOL / AFP / Getty Images

Governor Abbott says his executive order will help the Texas foster care system direct scarce resources to Texan children. But this is simply not true.

By revoking state licenses for facilities that provide temporary shelter to migrant children, Governor Abbott will prevent these facilities from dealing with any children. Indeed, transitional reception homes for migrants and traditional domestic care are both covered by the same license. If the governor withdraws this license in the name of the priority given to children born in Texas, he will not only harm migrant children; it will also reduce the state’s capacity for foster care.

Migrant children do not compete with Texan children for resources; we can and must take care of both. Housing migrant children in state-approved facilities is part of the solution, not the problem.

I hope Governor Abbott sees this as an opportunity to bring together those who care deeply about immigration issues with those who work in the state’s foster care system. It could encourage the recruitment of new families who are not currently functioning in the placement space to become transitional foster families for migrant children. This bridge-building work would connect families to the state foster care system and possibly lead them to consider going beyond their first placement as a transitional foster family, which would benefit Texas foster children in the long run.

I lived in Texas for years while studying at Dallas Theological Seminary. I have met countless faith-filled Christians who have seen their calling to bring comfort to vulnerable children. For many Christians, opening our homes and facilities to migrant children is a way of living our faith. Threatening actions against reception structures will prevent Christians from exercising their vocation of caring for the needy, the vulnerable and the residents. It actually infringes on the free exercise of religion.

And we know Governor Abbott values ​​religious freedom. He recently spent a bill which would prohibit the government from closing places of worship. And I’m sure Governor Abbott was paying attention to the recent Supreme Court ruling in Fulton v. City of philadelphia, where the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against a municipal government’s decision not to renew a contract with a religious charity because of its religious commitments.

Is the current situation in Texas so different from that in Philadelphia? I believe religious worship and caring for the vulnerable are both God-given responsibilities, and the state should not restrict either Texan.

My friend Jamie Ivey, an influential Austin-based Christian leader, expressed the view of many evangelicals concerned about the welfare of migrant children: “This order puts faith-based organizations and others in such a difficult position. I’m concerned that this order has the potential to punish, not help, organizations that spend their days caring for vulnerable children, by making them choose which children to care for. “

We have a legal obligation to take care of these children, as well as a moral obligation. the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act William Wilberforce and the Flores Settlement Agreement provide legal protections for migrant children and require the federal government to provide acceptable shelter. So taking care of these children is following and enforcing our US laws.

If Governor Abbott truly wants Christians to have the freedom to live out their faith with compassion and hospitality, I hope he will reconsider his threat to withdraw licenses from Texas child welfare facilities.

Bri Stensrud is the Director of Women of Welcome and previously served as Director of Sanctity of Life and Community Outreach for Focus on the Family.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.


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