You can chalk this up under the category of “No good deed ever goes unpunished.”
Gov. Kevin Stitt is getting hammered … by his own supporters … for showing Christian charity to people in need.
Since he was elected, no issue has brought more negative feedback to Stitt’s office than his Dec. 18 agreement to allow federally vetted refugees to resettle in the state.
For three weeks since Fox News host Tucker Carlson called out 18 Republican governors who agreed to refugee resettlement, Stitt’s office has averaged 300 calls a week on the issue, said Donelle Harder, a spokeswoman for the governor. For two weeks the calls were overwhelmingly negative, although in recent days the balance has shifted a bit with 43% supporting the governor’s decision.
Here are a couple of things you need to know about these refugees whom Stitt has welcomed to the state:
1. They aren’t the asylum seekers you’ve heard about at the Mexico border. In fiscal year 2018, 22,491 refugees were admitted to the U.S., according to a U.S. State Department report. The largest portion — 7,878 — came from the Republic of Congo, which is where Somali refugees by the thousands have fled. The top five nations of origin also includes Burma, Ukraine, Bhutan and Eritrea. The five nations accounted for more than three-quarters of the refugee total. Mexico accounted for none of them.
2. They have been vetted by the federal government. They aren’t terrorists. Many of them are Christians who are being oppressed in their native lands. In 2017, CNN reported that no one admitted to the U.S. as a refugee had ever been implicated in a fatal terrorist attack, and since that time the federal government has enhanced its security checks, reducing the admission numbers to a trickle.
3. Oklahoma has a long tradition of accepting refugees, and it has made our state stronger and more vibrant. After the Vietnam War, thousands of refugees came to the state and have established thriving businesses and successful families. In the past 10 years, nearly 3,200 refugees have resettled in Oklahoma, but after the Trump reduction, the number was down to 52 last fiscal year.
None of that matters to the people whipping up angry opposition for Stitt because President Donald Trump and his allies have made made refugees a political issue, and they expect Republican governors to support him.
Carlson’s 4½-minute Fox News spot on his Jan. 4 featured Ned Ryun, founder and CEO of American Majority, which describes itself as the nation’s premier conservative training organization.
Carlson accused the 18 governors of “cowardice” and said the resettlement agreements were “immoral” because faith-based refugee resettlement agencies receive federal funding.
“The governors aren’t housing any of the refugees in their homes or paying any of their own money, so how is it a Christian virtue to take other people’s money by force and give it away? I don’t remember that part of the Gospel.”
(Carlson might want to look at Matthew 25:34-35, “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For … I was a stranger and you invited me in … .’”)
Ryun put a xenophobic political spin on the decisions.
“This is how red states become blue, and America ceases to be America,” he said.
“These are red state Republican governors doing this,” Ryun said. “Trump is doing all the right things, and they are abandoning him on this.”
The whole issue was complicated last week when a federal judge ruled that the Trump administration’s requirement that governors give permission for refugee resettlement was an illegal delegation of federal authority to state and local governments.
While that issue is far from settled, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott became the nation’s first governor to refuse refugee admissions, saying the state was dealing with a disproportionate share of the nation’s immigration load already and needed to care for “those who are already here, including refugees, migrants, and the homeless — indeed, all Texans.”
In a Jan. 11 op/ed published in the Stillwater News-Press, Stitt responded to the Abbott news by saying he would limit Oklahoma’s reception of new refugees to about 1.2% of the national total, which would be roughly equal to Oklahoma’s share of the national population. The state would admit no more than the 220 refugees this year, he said.
Harder said the statement was necessary for fear that the federal government would seek to distribute Texas’ share of refugees across the remaining states that accept refugees. If the number of refugees coming to the state were about to go over either of Stitt’s limits, she said he would withdraw the state’s letter of acceptance.
Compared to the state’s historic efforts for refugees, 220 is small, but at this point the limit is hypothetical. So far, Stitt has done the right thing and has been on the side of the sheep, not the goats, despite harsh political attacks on his instinct toward charity to those in need.
Wayne Greene is the editorial pages editor of the Tulsa World.
Breaking down the first year in office for Gov. Kevin Stitt