Episcopal Bishop: ‘Refugee Resettlement in Kansas Will Continue’ After Governor Stops Support

Dan Gainor
Christian Murdock/The Gazette via AP

Gov. Sam Brownback has withdrawn Kansas from the federal refugee resettlement program, but his action “in no way will stop the work of Episcopal Migration Ministries-Wichita… in its ministry of helping refugees,” insists Dean Wolfe of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas.

“Refugee resettlement in Kansas will continue,” Wolfe insisted in a statement released on Wednesday.

“While the state will be removed from the necessary administrative assistance provided to refugee resettlement agencies, the U.S. government has said it will work with another entity to provide this assistance,” Wolfe added.

Wolfe claims that the decision by Brownback, a strongly committed Evangelical Christian and a Republican, “does not reflect fundamental Christian teachings”:

I am deeply disappointed that the governor of Kansas has taken action to remove our state from assisting in resettling refugees in our midst. It sends the message that Kansans do not welcome the chance to offer a new home to people who have endured years of violence and persecution. This not only is wrong, it does not reflect fundamental Christian teachings about hospitality:

Deuteronomy 10:19: Love the stranger because you yourself were a stranger.

Leviticus 19:34: The foreigner among you must be treated as a native.

Matthew 2:13: Jesus was a refugee.

James 1:27: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress.

As the Wichita Eagle reported, “Brownback cited security concerns Tuesday when he announced he was ending the state’s participation in the program, which helps resettle refugees fleeing war-torn nations.”

Security concerns for the citizens of Kansas, however, were not mentioned by Bishop Wolfe in his statement. Instead, he argued that faith-based groups in Kansas, as well as the rest of the country, “have been resettling refugees long before the government became involved in this ministry.”

As Marla Schmidt, Director of EMM-Wichita has said, “Faith-based entities have been resettling refugees long before the government became involved in this ministry. We will continue to respond in every way possible in offering humanitarian aid to refugees in great need.”

In the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas we will continue to be an advocate for those who have no voice. With the exception of indigenous peoples, we are all immigrants to this great land. May the Lord continue to bless refugees everywhere, as well as those who help them to find new, peaceful homes in the communities of our state.

The Episcopal Migration Ministries is one of nine VOLAGs (voluntary agencies) who are paid more than $1 billion annually by the Obama administration to operate the refugee resettlement program.

Wolfe’s assertion that Episcopal Migration Ministries-Wichita will continue to resettle refugees in Kansas may well be tested by Gov. Brownback in a number of ways.

As a state-chartered organization, Episcopal Migration Ministries-Wichita is regularly required to renew its legal privilege to operate within the state. Entities shown to be out of compliance with state law and regulations often see that privilege revoked, at least temporarily.

Brownback’s decision to withdraw Kansas from the federal refugee resettlement program also puts the operation of those programs by VOLAGs currently administering them in the state in an uncertain legal status.

The Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement continued the operation of the federal refugee resettlement in the twelve other states that previously withdrew from the program under the “Wilson-Fish alternative program” developed by a set of regulations enacted in the 1990s.

The Obama administration is asserting its right to name a VOLAG to operate the federal refugee resettlement program in Kansas now that it has withdrawn from the program, citing those regulations. But the statutory basis of those regulations has come under challenge recently.

In Tennessee, one of the other twelve “Wilson-Fish alternative program” states, the Tennessee General Assembly recently declared that it will sue the federal government on Tenth Amendment grounds for its continued operation of the refugee resettlement program in that state. Tennessee withdrew from the program in 2007, in a letter then-Governor Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, submitted to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Should Kansas choose to file a similar lawsuit, or join the anticipated Tennessee lawsuit, the accuracy of Bishop Wolfe’s defiant prediction that “[r]efugee resettlement in Kansas will continue,” may be determined by the federal courts.


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