Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee has announced that the state will not stop resettling refugees, even though Republican Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and Republican Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton said they disagree.
Lee had this power, per an executive order from U.S. Republican President Donald Trump. Trump issued an executive order in September that asked states and cities to consent in writing if they want to continue refugee resettlements.
Lee released a statement explaining his reasons.
“The United States and Tennessee have always been … a shining beacon of freedom and opportunity for the persecuted and oppressed, particularly those suffering religious persecution,” Lee said in a statement.
“My administration has worked extensively to determine the best outcome for Tennessee, and I will consent to working with President Trump and his administration to responsibly resettle refugees.”
McNally and Sexton, however, took issue with Lee in a statement they released to the press Wednesday.
“Both our nation and the state of Tennessee have been extremely welcoming to immigrants throughout modern history. In 2016, the General Assembly adopted a resolution expressing the desire of our citizens to file a federal lawsuit to halt refugee resettlement in Tennessee,” the two officials said.
“Our opinion has not changed on this issue since legal action was taken, and our personal preference would have been to exercise the option to hit the pause button on accepting additional refugees in our state. However, the federal order makes this the sole decision of the Governor, and he has made his call.”
State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-TN) told The Tennessee Star that he was perfectly aligned with the statement of Lt. Gov. McNally and Speaker Sexton.
“The Tennessee General Assembly spoke loud and clear on refugee resettlement in 2017 when we voted to file a lawsuit on it,” Rep. Mark Green (R-TN), who served in the Tennessee State Senate until his election to Congress in 2018, told The Tennessee Star in a statement he provided on Wednesday about Gov. Lee’s decision.
“As it is still pending in court, I believe Tennessee should hit the pause button and allow the lawsuit to play out. The General Assembly should be involved in any future decisions regarding refugee resettlement in our state,” Green concluded.
Left wing groups, like The Tennessee Immigration and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) have lobbied Gov. Lee aggressively to announce in favor of allowing more refugees to be resettled in the state. That resettlement is done initially at the expense of the federal government, but after eight months the costs of social welfare benefits and education are borne by the taxpayers of the state of Tennessee.
The refugee resettlement program in Tennessee is managed by an arm of Catholic Charities, one of the federally approved Voluntary Agencies (VOLAGs) paid by the federal government to resettle refugees.
Policies towards immigration and refugee resettlement were among the key issues in the 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary. Bill Lee won that primary in an upset over two better funded rivals, Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) and business executive Randy Boyd.
While Black and Boyd spent millions attacking each other, and driving their negatives up, Lee slipped in to a victory by focusing on a positive campaign.
During the primary, however, Rep. Black warned that Lee would support open border immigration policies, free tuition for illegal aliens, and would continue to support refugee resettlement in the state.
“”The governor is well-intentioned, and I would say that there are some liberal Christians who take advantage of that and the refugee situation is far more complicated than just letting in people,” former Vanderbilt professor Carol Swain, editor of Debating Immigration, told The Tennessee Star on Wednesday.
“And it has to do with how many people can you absorb, how long those people get assistance from the federal government, what happens to the communities once their aid runs out, and those various things that I would say that are not always fair to the refugees when we bring them into this country and we don’t have the resources they need to thrive,” Swain continued, adding:
You know that expression ‘The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions’? That may not be the right expression, but I think the Christian community and the governor all have good intentions, but does that make good public policy? And we look at public policy and we have to look at how many refugees you can assimilate with the resources that come from the federal government, what happens when those resources run out, and is it enough to really enable people to thrive and be effective?
I think what really happens is it falls on the churches and people in the communities, and it also creates sometimes a lot of anger and bitterness on the part of the young immigrants who come here. In some cases, they didn’t ask to come. They see what other Americans have. They don’t have it, and so you end up with gangs and people who hate America.
A large contingent of Tennessee Star readers said earlier this month on our website and our Facebook page that they did not want Lee to allow more refugees in. Readers said if Lee did so that he would make himself a one-term governor.
Members of Lee’s office gave no comment on the matter when we asked them for one.
Also, as The Star reported in September, the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) and Bursch Law PLLC filed a petition for rehearing by the entire Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals bench of a two-judge panel opinion dismissing Tennessee’s challenge to the constitutionality of the federal refugee resettlement program for lack of standing.
The petition for rehearing is here.
The two-judge panel rejected the state’s challenge in July, as The Tennessee Star previously reported.
The basis for the rehearing petition, which was filed Friday, Sept. 6, is that the two-judge opinion is “painfully at odds” with Supreme Court precedent.
“The basis for the rehearing petition, which was filed Friday, Sept. 6, is that the two-judge opinion is “painfully at odds” with Supreme Court precedent. A federal judge in March 2018 dismissed Tennessee’s lawsuit against the federal government’s resettlement of refugees in the state on 10th amendment grounds. The Tennessee General Assembly in May 2018 authorized TMLC to file an appeal on its behalf, The Star reported. The law center did not charge for the service.
TMLC says it filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs in March 2017, alleging that the Refugee Act of 1980, imposed on it by the federal government, amounts to an unconstitutional power grab – commandeering millions in state taxpayer dollars for a purely federal program.”
A federal district court granted the federal government’s motion to dismiss.
The petition for rehearing asks the full bench: Does the Tennessee General Assembly have standing to challenge a regulatory regimen allowing the federal government to siphon dollars from the state treasury “at times and in amounts of the federal government’s choosing,” diluting the legislature’s exclusive power of appropriation?
The controversy dates to 2008 when the state pulled out of the federal refugee program in accordance with its agreement with the federal government. The flow of refugees continued, as the federal government simply transferred management of the program to a private agency, Catholic Charities of Tennessee, an arm of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of TMLC, said, “This case has enormous jurisprudential consequences, not only on the issue of the federal refugee resettlement program, but on the ability of Congress to force states to pay for future bizarre, fantastical, unwanted programs as proposed by current Democrat candidates without any recourse to the courts.”
The federal government is forcing Tennessee to continue funding the program by threatening to pull $7 billion in federal Medicaid funding, 20 percent of the state’s total budget.
The rehearing petition said, “As the federal bureaucracy continues to grow, federal officials will increasingly look to state budgets as the solution to federal funding deficits. When federal bureaucrats do so in violation of the Constitution, e.g. by coercing states to continue funding under pain of losing 20% of the state budget, state legislators must have the ability to bring suit.”
Besides Medicaid funding, the federal government commandeers state funds for other welfare programs and for public education of the refugees.
Since January 2002 the federal government has placed more than 19,000 refugees into Tennessee cities.
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