Gov. Bill Lee Doubles Down on His Unpopular Decision to Bring More Refugees into Tennessee

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Gov. Bill Lee doubled down on his controversial – and unpopular – decision to say yes, rather than no, to more refugees in Tennessee during an interview with Michael DelGiorno on his radio program Monday morning, heard on Nashville’s 99.7 WTN.

In September, U.S. Republican President Donald Trump issued an executive order that enabled state and local governments to refuse resettling any more refugees in their states or localities.

As The Tennessee Star reported, Lee brought an early Christmas gift to leftists around the state. He announced one week before the holiday that he wrote Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and invited the federal government to continue resettling refugees in Tennessee through voluntary agencies that take federal taxpayer dollars to do so.

This, even though even though Republican Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and Republican Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton said they disagreed with Lee’s choice.

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. The federal government only provides eight months of refugee cash assistance for those ineligible for TANF and 8 months of refugee medical assistance for those ineligible for TennCare.

If a refugee becomes eligible for TANF and/or TennCare during that 8 month period of time, then the federal subsidy stops and they move to the state program which is funded by state and federal dollars. Federal grants for certain other social services are formula grants based on a combination of factors including the number of refugees so the lower the number, the lower the dollars. State taxpayers bear both short and long-terms costs.

In fact, the federal government in multiple reports has admitted to shifting federal costs associated with the resettlement program to the states because of reduced federal appropriations for refugee assistance.

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.

“If refugees are coming into America, and they are because President Trump is allowing 18,000 a year to the enter the country, then I want to have something to say about that process,” the governor told DelGiorno.

In fact, the executive order only offered the governor a yes or no option. The Funding Notice which operationalizes the consent process permits the federal resettlement contractors to resettle different classes of refugees anywhere between 50 to 100 miles from the contractor’s office regardless of whether a county consented.

Gov. Lee could have said no new refugees, and none of those 18,000 refugees, many of them from countries like Burma and the Democratic Republic of Congo, known as high tuberculosis burden countries, would have been resettled in Tennessee for the balance of FY 2020. Instead, Lee opted to say yes.

“These are people who actually need refuge. And we’ve done that for centuries but there’s been a lot of talk about fighting Trump on this. President Trump has designed this policy and asked whether or not governors want to engage with his administration to do this,” Lee added.

The Refugee Act of 1980, the enabling legislation that authorized the federal refugee resettlement program, was passed 40 years ago — not centuries ago.

Lee also tried to explain why 16 other Republican governors, including Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, also said yes to resettling refugees in their respective states.

“This process that President Trump has outlined and that all these Republican governors are engaging. You know why they’re engaging?” Lee asked rhetorically.

“Because if we don’t, the Democrats decide what this process looks like. If we engage in this then we get to have some control over who comes. Where they come from. How they’re assimilated,” Lee asserted.

Lee’s statement that if he did not say yes to more refugees “Democrats decide what this process looks like,” is not, however, supported by the facts of the resettlement program, either in states that have withdrawn from the federal refugee resettlement program, as Tennessee did in 2009, and where ORR designated a state replacement Non Governmental Organization (a VOLAG) to administer the program for the state, or states that have remained in the federal refugee resettlement program.

It is entirely unclear whether states that have remained in the federal refugee resettlement program  have any real oversight since many of the decisions about resettlement actually happen between the VOLAGs and the State Dept. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

Lee’s letter saying yes to more refugees does not give the state of Tennessee any control over the “process of refugee resettlement.” It simply means that a process that is out of its hands continues to remains out of its hands, but a greater number of refugees will be resettled in the state where, in a relatively short period of time, the social welfare benefits paid to the refugees come out of the pockets of Tennessee taxpayers.

Republicans and conservatives across the state have reacted strongly and negatively to Gov. Lee’s decision to say yes to more refugees.

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 staff gave no comment on the matter when we asked them for one.

But Lee himself had plenty to say to DelGiorno.

The governor also offered a hard to follow explanation as to why he believed his decision to say yes to refugees does not completely undermine the Tennessee General Assembly’s lawsuit against the federal government’s continued resettlement of refugees in the state.

The lawsuit is actually about the federal government’s forcing Tennessee to expend state money for a voluntary federal program from which the state withdrew.

The lawsuit is about federal commandeering of state funds. The federal government used to reimburse states 100 percent of the state funded portion of Medicaid for 3 full years for each refugee resettled. Then the feds began reducing the reimbursement because they appropriated fewer dollars for refugee assistance. After the state withdrew, the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement designated Catholic Charities and they keep bringing refugees in and enrolling them in TennCare,  which is partially funded by state tax dollars. Tennessee cannot refuse to provide refugees access to that program so it is forced to pay.

“Our state has filed a lawsuit against the federal government because of the way the Obama administration did this to protect our state from forced mandated refugee resettlement,” Lee said.

“That lawsuit is still in play. This [decision] does nothing to change that and I support that lawsuit. We ought to pursue it with vigor,” the governor added.

Despite his claim that “we ought to pursue” the lawsuit against the federal government “with vigor,” Gov. Lee has chosen not to file an amicus brief in federal court, which would have clearly boosted the standing of the plaintiff, The Tennessee General Assembly. Lee’s predecessor, Gov. Haslam, refused to be a part of the lawsuit.

Several legal experts familiar with refugee resettlement law tell The Tennessee Star that, contrary to the governor’s assertion, his decision to welcome refugees into the state completely undermines The Tennessee General Assembly’s lawsuit, and will likely be cited as a reason for dismissing the lawsuit.

Here are more of Lee’s remarks on his refugee decision, as he explained to DelGiorno. You can listen to the full interview here.

This is a very complex issue. It was very difficult to come to this decision. Because I, like so many people in this state, am very concerned about who comes into this country. Where they come from. What their background is. What their security risk is. Those are things that matter a lot. Their ability to assimilate. Those are things that matter.

And the Obama administration totally failed in that policy. They were letting in anybody and everybody and 90,000 refugees. And by the way, it’s also important to remember, this is not about illegal immigration. We should have no tolerance for illegal immigration. We need to have a closed border.

We need to be certain and we will be under my watch and that we don’t have sanctuary cities in this state. Those are all issues about illegal immigration. This is about refugee policy. And we’ve had refugees in this country for centuries and many of them who are persecuted Christians. Politically persecuted from war-torn regions.

These are people who actually need refuge. And we’ve done that for centuries but there’s been a lot of talk about fighting Trump on this. President Trump has designed this policy and asked whether or not governors want to engage with his administration to do this. I’m very concerned about safety and who’s coming into this state.

If refugees are coming into America, and they are because President Trump is allowing 18,000 a year to the entire country, then I want to have something to say about that process. See, President Trump vastly improved the way the refugee policy was before he got here. Thankfully, he vastly improved it. He reduced the numbers back to Reagan era numbers.

He improved the vetting process. And we have been speaking to them and talking to them about this process because I want to make sure it’s a process we want to live with and he improved the vetting process. If we engage in this than we have some control over it. And we have control over who comes in.

This process that President Trump has outlined and that all these Republican governors are engaging? You know why they’re engaging? Because if we don’t, the Democrats decide what this process looks like. If we engage in this then we get to have some control over who comes. Where they come from. How they’re assimilated.

How we engage the church community on how to assimilate them. Not the agencies that place them. How we actually provide refuge. Now let me say one last thing about this and you can ask me more about it if you want. By the way, the majority of these refugees are Christians. They are persecuted Christians.

I have worked with an agency in Nashville that’s a Christian organization working with refugees from Kurdistan. You know who some of these people that are in Nashville are? These are women and children whose husbands were killed because they worked alongside American soldiers in the Iraq war as interpreters. As scouts for us.

They helped our military men and their families are persecuted from it. And they’re fleeing that persecution. I am not going to turn my back on men that walked alongside and fought alongside our soldiers.  I will, however, demand that the federal government work with us to create a pathway that we have some control over. (Inaudible crosstalk) 

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]

 

 

 

 

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27 Thoughts to “Gov. Bill Lee Doubles Down on His Unpopular Decision to Bring More Refugees into Tennessee”

  1. […] Lee cited his Christian faith as one of his reasons for taking in more refugees. […]

  2. […] Governor Lee’s decision to say yes to more refugees has been very unpopular in Tennessee, as The Star has reported. […]

  3. Polly Dogan

    We need to START IMPEACHMENT proceeding now before, THIS GETS started. Enough of this stupid garbage, is enough. We need to quit killing our HELPLESS PRECIOUS UNBORN, AND NEWBORN BABIES, let them grow up to become citizens, and we would have enough people. This is AMERICA, and most of these PEOPLE coming in here just want to rip us off, plus kill us. Wake up AMERICA before the MUSLIMS take our COUNTRY. The people THAT READY want to come here, should come here LEGALLY, not ILLEGALLY. I will work against bill lee now. Even tho I voted for him. He had proven to be a snake in the grass. LET’S impeach him now. Anyone for it contact me, and I will help.

  4. Judith Jackson

    He’s just looking for more cheap labor for his company.

  5. […] for Lee, as The Star reported this week that the governor doubled down on his controversial – and unpopular – decision to say yes, rather […]

  6. Deana Reeser

    I’m right there with you did the same thing.

  7. Silence Dogood

    Anyone on this board note that Mayor Kane of Knox County agreed to take the refugees in our area, also? Another betrayal to Conservatives. Neither of those two asked their constituents what they wanted. Disgusting. We have met the enemy and it is us.

  8. Michael Cherry

    I voted for Diiane Black in the primary, I think that if a certain talk show host on 99.7 would have stayed out of the primary Mrs Black might have won, even so, against my better judgement I voted for Mr. Lee, I did so to try to keep Karl Marx Dean out. By doing so we now have just another of the Marx brothers. Does anyone know if there is a chance to recall the governor ?

  9. Dean from Knoxville

    Can’t wait to vote against this one term governor, dang RHINO’s . . . can’t go extinct soon enough for me.

  10. 83ragtop50

    One of his lame arguments is that it is better to let refugees to directly locate into Tennessee rather than letting them land in a blue state then move to Tennessee. His excuse is that letting them come here in the first place gives us the opportunity to know who is coming. That is hogwash. Letting them locate into Tennessee just gives those in blue states an incentive to move here to be with their contemporaries.

  11. Julie

    Expect more waffling, he wants to appeal to conservatives and liberals so that he can run for president at some point. No Gov. Lee, we are trying to drain the swamp. This guy will be a one term governor.

    1. CCW

      If Billy Lee wants to wax religious in his zeal to do what is right, he should first read Proverbs 14:12 (KJV) 12 “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” The modern translation is this: “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

      The U.S. currently admits more aliens than any other country in the world. In the Bush era the U.S. admitted more aliens than the SUM of all other countries of the world. Now he is doing this in the face of “Motor Voter, and Alien Drivers Licenses” bearing down on us. We will lose our Republic when this transpires.

      And worst of all, see above: “… federal Office of Refugee Resettlement designated Catholic Charities and they keep bringing refugees in and enrolling them in TennCare, which is partially funded by state tax dollars. Tennessee cannot refuse to provide refugees access to that program so it is forced to pay.”

      Tennessee almost went broke several years back when judges refused to allow the state to rebalance its TennCare books. Doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results is one definition of insanity.

  12. WA2TN

    Liar Bill Lee knows these ‘refugees’ have no intention to assimilate into American life, but to create enclaves that will expand for the purpose of Cultural Replacement. Time to find his primary opponent!

  13. Megan Barry

    Diversity is our strength! (Just not in my neighborhood)

  14. Pissed Off Nashvillian

    Great! We’ve allowed the lefty activists to win again.

  15. Wolf Woman

    Bill Lee doesn’t understand the game of politics, nor does he seem to want to. He doesn’t listen to those people who voted him into office. He’s too dogmatic in his beliefs to make even a mediocre governor. It’s going to be a bumpy ride for conservatives with this egotist who knows best at the helm of our state.

  16. Norman

    Bill Lee is a democrat in disguise. I hope I am still alive to vote the Rino out in the next election.

  17. scary times

    Its time for Bill Lees local government to begin new construction on housing these refugees right next to bill lee and his family.. We can find out where Bill Lee children and employees live to find housing for these so-called refugees. That way Bill and HIS family can live the liberal life UP CLOSE and not force it on others without experiencing this BILL LEE social experiment.RECALL BILL LEE NOW!

  18. Silence Dogood

    RINO Squish. Like it. Will remember this situation. Very upset with the Tennessee Republican Party. This person is no Donald Trump. Bill, you should ask the voters of this state what we want to do.

    1. Stuart I. Anderson

      Silence, the Tennessee Republican Party is a means of transportation, not a destination. Being “. . .upset with the Tennessee Republican Party” because you don’t like where we find ourselves because of the decisions made by our Governor is like my being upset with the bus company that took me to school because I hated school.

      Wouldn’t it be more productive to be upset with solid conservatives who voted for No Record Candidate Bill Lee for the highest office in this state when Diane Black (Heritage-77%) with an long record on the hotter side of tepid conservative was on the ticket too and to vow that you will do what you can to stop Chris Devaney accomplishing for No Record Candidate Chairman Manny what he accomplished for No Record Candidate Bill Lee?

      1. Silence Dogood

        Sorry, Stuart, but I cannot let the TRP off of the hook. I wanted Mae Beavers. Diane Black would have been fine, too. Bill Lee could not have run as a Republican without the TRP’s agreement. Could Bredesen have run as a Republican? HRC? No, the TRP would not have allowed it. This guy had NO RECORD, as you know. A pet peeve for both of us. And had Diane Black have been on the ballot vs. Bredesen, Diane would have won. Easily. She would have been a better Governor. Why would we not hold the TRP responsible for the candidates running with their blessing? What other purpose does the TRP serve in the end? The Democrats won in this state when they convinced the average Republican power broker (TRP) that Bredesen had a chance. Like voting for John McCain and Mitt Romney for President. I felt so dirty after voting for them. If the TRP, under its current management, is not going to present better candidates we need new TRP managers.It is their business to present great candidates to the electorate to represent Republican Party interests.

        1. Stuart I. Anderson

          As a life long Dissident Republican, I believe without a doubt that “. . .we new TRP managers. . . .” but I question what control the TRP has over candidates who want to run as a Republican UNLESS they have an open and notorious Democratic connection. Lee was a NULLITY and he got many a good, solid conservative to vote for him. LEE WINS – conservatism in Tennessee loses!!!!

    2. Donald

      Make Lee a one term governor.
      He can take his refugees and his vouchers to the unemployment line with him.

    3. BJ Zeagler

      We voted for Lee trusting his word that he was for the people of Tennessee. My voice is from me, my family, and many many friends that promise to work fervently to make sure he is 1 term Governor. By the way, a Christian has integrity and keeps his word. He has lost his credibility with this action. My mistake in trusting his word in the first place. Tennesseans Do Not want anymore refugees. This is deal breaker for your Governorship.

      1. Stuart I. Anderson

        BJ, therein lies the problem of voting for a No Record Candidate based on what his campaign chairman says the candidate should say during the campaign. If you want to know the candidate, there is no substitute for, or hiding from, a political record. If he doesn’t have a political record that befits the office he is seeking I would tell him to go home and get one THEN come back and run for office.

      2. Stephen Bullard

        I agree. I voted for him and encouraged my friends and family to vote for him on his word. That won’t happen again.

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