The number of resettled refugees who have arrived in Tennessee has increased 46 percent in 2019 during the 11 months Bill Lee has served as governor of the state.
Last week, Gov. Lee announced his unpopular and controversial decision to allow more refugees to be resettled in the state in 2020, even though President Trump’s executive order in September gave state governments the authority to say no to more refugees. The Tennessee General Assembly has filed a lawsuit in the federal courts arguing on Tenth Amendment grounds that the federal government does not have the right to resettle refugees in the state, forcing the state’s taxpayers to pay for the educational and social welfare benefits given those refugees.
That lawsuit is currently pending in the federal courts. Gov. Lee’s decision has the effect of undermining the Tennessee General Assembly’s case. During his time in office, Gov. Lee has not filed an amicus brief supporting the Tennessee General Assembly’s case.
Under Gov. Lee, refugees have been resettled in the state from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burma (now called Myanmar), Somalia, Syria, Sudan, Iran and Iraq.
From the date of his inauguration on January 19, 2019 to Saturday, December 21, 2019 a total of 595 refugees have been resettled in Tennessee by the Tennessee Office of Refugees, an arm of the Catholic Charities Voluntary Agency (VOLAG) that is paid by the federal government for each resettled refugee, according to the Department of State’s wrapnets.org interactive reporting website.
Notably, the majority of arrivals (355) came from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with the second greatest number of refugees (90) resettled in Tennessee during the 11 months Gov. Lee has been in office coming from Burma (now called Myanmar.) Both of these countries are on the list of 22 countries in the world with High Tuberculosis Burdens.
The number of refugees resettled in Tennessee during the 11 months of Gov. Bill Lee’s administration in 2019 is up 46 percent from the comparable period in 2018 – January 19, 2018 to December 20, 2018, when 405 refugees were resettled in Tennessee.
The 46 percent increase in refugee arrivals in 2019 in Tennessee during Gov. Lee’s tenure stands in mark contrast to the refugees resettled in the United States as a whole.
In fact, it is more than double the 22 percent increase over all in the United States during the same time period
In 2019, a little more than 27,000 refugees were resettled throughout the country from January 19, 2019 to December 21, 2109 a 22 percent increase from the 22,000 refugees resettled from January 19, 2018 to December 21, 2018.
The number of refugees resettled in the United States during that 2018 period was significantly lower than the annual cap for refugees set by the president, due to an emergency executive order signed by President Trump in January 2107 that stopped all refugee resettlement from “hot beds of terrorism” such as Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Liberia, Somali, Sudan, and Chad.
Overall, refugee resettlement in the United States under President Trump has declined significantly since FY 2016, the last full fiscal year under the Obama Administration, when more than 89,000 refugees were resettled in the country. Almost half came from countries subsequently designated by President Trump as hotbeds of terrorism.
During FY 2017, which began on October 1, 2016 and ended on September 30, 2017 – a little more than three months under the Obama administration and a little less than nine months under the Trump administration – refugee resettlement declined to 57,000 annually.
In FY 2018 it dropped to a little more than 22,000, but in FY 2019 it moved up somewhat to 30,000.
The president has set the cap for FY 2020, which began on October 1, 2019 at 18,000.
The concern among many familiar with the refugee resettlement program is that Gov. Lee’s announcement will make Tennessee a magnet for refugee resettlement, which is managed by VOLAGs seeking easily accessible destinations.
So while the total number of refugees resettled in the country is likely to continue to drop, the number resettled in Tennessee for the balance of FY 2020 is now likely to increase, due to Lee’s decision.
In the event President Trump is not re-elected in 2020, all of the Democrat candidates for president have indicated a desire to increase the number of refugees resettled in the United States to levels at or above the 89,000 annual level during the last year of President’ Obama’s administration.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton said she wanted to increase the annual number of refugees entering the country to 200,000, with as many as 75,000 coming from Syria.
With a Democratic administration at the national level and Gov. Lee’s decision to open the doors of the state to more refugees, the number of refugees resettled in Tennessee during FY 2021 and FY 2022 could easily skyrocket from the 595 resettled during the 11 months of the Lee administration to well above the FY 2016 high, when 1,959 refugees were resettled in the state.
The top four countries of origin for refugees arriving in Tennessee during FY 2016 were the Democratic Republic of the Congo (565), Iraq (309), Syria (246), and Somalia (236).
You can see the breakdown of refugees resettled in Tennessee during Gov. Lee’s administration in this PDF below, which is organized by both country of origin and destination within Tennessee.
REFUGEE ARRIVALS IN TENNESSEE
January 19, 2019 to December 21, 2019
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