To say that Louisiana is willing to accept refugees from countries where they faced persecution is not exactly news. It always has, and generations of people who’ve fled hardship have found new homes here, including the Acadians from Canada.
The state’s willingness to continue the practice came under question last fall, when President Donald Trump issued an executive order giving states and localities the option of rejecting refugees who’ve been through a careful, well-established vetting process. Gov. John Bel Edwards’ response, that the welcome mat would remain out, is the compassionate and principled one.
Refugee resettlement became a political issue late in the 2015 governor’s race, just as then-candidate Trump was embarking on a presidential campaign that leaned heavily on harsh anti-immigration rhetoric. After ISIS terror attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, Gov. Bobby Jindal issued an executive order attempting to keep Syrian refugees out of Louisiana even though there was no indication of a serious threat here. Republican gubernatorial candidate David Vitter loudly promoted his own call for a moratorium, and Edwards, a Democrat, echoed their professed concerns. It wasn’t his one of his proudest moments.
Far more honorable is Edwards’ current stance, which, in an encouraging sign given how divisive immigration remains, he shares with 41 other governors from both parties. Just one governor, Republican Greg Abbott of Texas, has said no; the rest had until Jan. 21 to decide, but a preliminary injunction issued by a federal judge last week put the deadline on hold.
Many governors acted at the urging of local religious groups. Edwards, who was recently reelected to a second term and no longer has to worry about electoral fallout, cited a request from the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“The vast majority of refugees resettled in Louisiana are welcomed for family unity reasons and are reunifying with immediate family members already residing in Louisiana,” a spokeswoman for Catholic Charities said. “This allows them to integrate and achieve self-sufficiency quickly. In the last year, the Louisiana Office for Refugees reported a 92% employment rate within 8 months of eligible clients’ arrival — with some able to purchase their first home in the state within less than two years.”
Edwards’ decision will hardly result in a huge influx.
In the three years since Trump took office, the state has received just 96 refugees, and as with the rest of the country, the number has dropped dramatically. In 2017, 70 refugees resettled in Louisiana. In 2018 the number fell to 15, and in 2019 11 refugees resettled here, according to the U.S. State Department. Last year’s group includes four people from Burma, four from Eritrea and one each from Honduras, Guatemala and Iraq.
So admittedly, Edwards’ announcement does little to address a global problem, but at least it’s something. For those fortunate few who will experience the kindness, security, freedom and opportunity our state has to offer, it’s everything.