Gov. Bill Lee Silent on Report His Decision Allows Federal Government to Send Middle East Refugees to Tennessee That Australia Has Refused

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Gov. Bill Lee’s decision on December 18 to say yes to more refugees in Tennessee allows the federal government to resettle refugees from any country it wants into the state, including an estimated 300 to 720  refugees from Middle East countries that the government of Australia has refused to accept.

Press reports indicate these refugees come from Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq.

Because of the Australian government’s refusal to accept these refugees, many of whom reportedly have mental health issues, they have remained housed for several years in refugee camps on the Papua New Guinea island of Manus, and Nauru, a small island country more than 1,000 miles north of the coast of Australia. President Obama agreed to accept 1,250 of these refugees in 2016. Since then, 530 of these refugees have been resettled in the United States under the Trump administration.

In June, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported, “Nearly 300 refugees will soon move to the US under the resettlement deal and [Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter] Dutton said he was hopeful that figure may climb further.”

Some – possibly all – of the remaining 420 refugees out of the original 1,250 refugees Australia refused to accept that President Obama promised to take may also ultimately be resettled in the United States.

Thanks to Gov. Lee’s decision, the federal government could resettle some of these 300 to 720 Middle East refugees in Tennessee during the eight and a half months that remain in FY 2020.

The point was first made by Pat Hamsa on Thursday in this article at

In addition, the federal government could resettle hundreds of refugees in the United States, perhaps more, from countries that have been designated as “hotbeds of terrorism” and are currently among the travel ban countries established by the Trump administration (which now includes Iran, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Libya, Venezuela, and North Korea) in FY 2020 for purposes of “family reunification,” or simply if they are “referred . . . by a U.S. embassy in any location.”

A total of 20 refugees from travel ban countries that have been declared “hotbeds of terrorism” by the Trump administration have been resettled in Tennessee since Gov. Lee was inaugurated on January 19, 2019: 4 from Iran, 9 from Syria, and 7 from Somalia. During that same time period, more than 1,000 refugees from these countries (1,108 according to the Department of State’s website) have been resettled in the other 49 states of the country.

You can see the complete list of the 595 refugees admitted to Tennessee during Gov. Bill Lee’s tenure (from January 20, 2019 to January 12, 2020) by country of origin here:

(Source: The Department of State’s website)

Also during Gov. Lee’s time in office, the federal government has already settled a number of refugees from Afghanistan (6), Iraq (20), and Sudan (20) in Tennessee. These are also among the countries of origins of those Middle East refugees Australia has refused to accept that are headed towards the United States.

The details of the countries of origin for refugees eligible to resettle in the United States are provided in this document, the Department of State’s Refugee Resettlement Plan for FY 2020, submitted to Congress this past September:

Description of the Number and Allocation of the Refugees To Be Admitted and an Analysis of Conditions Within the Countries From Which They Came


Population of special humanitarian concernAdmit up to
Refugees who:

  • have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of religion; or
  • who are within a category of aliens established under subsection (b) of Section 599D of Title V, P. L. 101-167, as amended (the Lautenberg and Specter Amendments).
Refugees who are within a category of aliens listed in Section 1243(a) of the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act of 2007, Title XII, Div. A, P. L. 110-181, as amended.4,000
Refugees who are nationals or habitual residents of El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras.1,500
Other refugees not covered by the foregoing categories, including:

  • Those referred to the USRAP by a U.S. embassy in any location.
  • Those who gain access to the USRAP for family reunification through the Priority 3 process or through a Form I-730 following-to-join petition.[1]
  • Those currently located in Australia, Nauru, or Papua New Guinea who gain access to USRAP pursuant to an arrangement between the United States and Australia.
Total proposed refugee admissions in FY 202018,000

The Tennessee Star contacted Gov. Lee’s office on Friday and requested a response to the following question:

According to the U.S. State Department’s report to Congress, up to 7,500 of the 18,000 refugees who will be admitted to the United States in FY 2020 could include dangerous refugees from the Middle East currently located in Australia, Nauru, or Papua New Guinea. Was the governor aware of this when he decided to say yes to refugees in Tennessee?

The governor has not responded to our question as of Monday morning.

An estimated 3 million refugees have been resettled in the United States under the Refugee Admission Program (RAP), which was established under the Refugee Act of 1980, which was signed by President Jimmy Carter.

Under that law, the maximum number of refugees authorized to resettle in the United States each fiscal year is determined each September when the president announces a refugee “cap” in a formal presidential determination letter submitted to Congress.

President Obama set the refugee “cap” at 90,000 in FY 2016, the last full year of his administration. (October 1, 2015 to September 30,2016).

In September of 2019, President Trump set the refugee “cap” at 18,000 for FY 2020, which began on October 1, 2019 and ends on September 30, 2020, a reduction from the refugee “cap” of 22,000 the president set for FY 2019.

Eight months from now, in September of 2020, President Trump will set the refugee “cap” for FY 2021, a number that is expected to be at or below the FY 2020 “cap” of 18,000. Then in September of 2021, whoever wins the November 2020 presidential election will set the refugee “cap” for FY 2022. All of the major contenders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination have promised to increase the FY 2020 refugee “cap” to 100,000 or more, likely greater than a five-fold increase from the FY 2020 “cap” established by President Trump.

Of equal importance, under a Democratic administration, the leading countries of origin for refugees admitted into the United States are likely to revert to the pattern of the final year Obama administration (FY 2016), when the vast majority of refugees resettled in the United States (more than 75 percent, or 70,306 out of 89,995 according to the Department of State’s website) came from seven Middle Eastern countries: Syria, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Sudan.

FY 2022 begins on October 1, 2021, which is more than one full year before November 2022, the next general election for governor in Tennessee, and one year and three months before Gov. Lee’s first term in office ends in January 2023.

Given Gov. Lee’s December 18, 2019 decision to say yes to more refugees, it is entirely possible that the number of refugees admitted into the state of Tennessee during the last one year and three months of his current term in office could skyrocket more than five-fold from the 595 who have been admitted during his first year in office in the event a Democrat is elected president in November 2020.

Under that scenario, more than 3,000 refugees would be resettled in Tennessee in FY 2022, many of them from Middle Eastern countries of origin.

In FY 2016, 89,995 refugees were resettled in the United States under the Refugee Admissions Program, 1,959 of whom were resettled in Tennessee.

In FY 2019, 22,000 refugees were resettled in the United States under the Refugee Admissions Program, 653 of whom were resettled in Tennessee. That same year, 2.457 refugees were resettled in Texas, whose governor on Friday said no to refugees, and 2,075 were resettled in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi, states whose governors have yet to announce whether he will say yes or no to refugees.

You can see the countries of origin of refugees resettled in the state of Tennessee between FY 2016 and FY 2019, as well as the first three months and 11 days of FY 2020, here:

(Source: The Department of State’s website)

In late September, just days before the start of FY 2020 on October 1, 2019, President Trump fulfilled a campaign promise by signing an executive order which said that refugees could not be resettled in a state or locality without the consent of the state government and local government, thereby giving state governments and local county governments the right to refuse refugees for the balance of FY 2020.

The specific language of that executive order as it relates to consent from state and local governments is as follows:

Sec. 2. Consent of States and Localities to the Placement of Refugees.

(a) Within 90 days of the date of this order, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall develop and implement a process to determine whether the State and locality both consent, in writing, to the resettlement of refugees within the State and locality, before refugees are resettled within that State and locality under the Program. The Secretary of State shall publicly release any written consents of States and localities to resettlement of refugees.

(b) Within 90 days of the date of this order, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall develop and implement a process by which, consistent with 8 U.S.C. 1522(a)(2)(D), the State and the locality’s consent to the resettlement of refugees under the Program Start Printed Page 52356is taken into account to the maximum extent consistent with law.

In particular, that process shall provide that, if either a State or locality has not provided consent to receive refugees under the Program, then refugees should not be resettled within that State or locality unless the Secretary of State concludes, following consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Homeland Security, that failing to resettle refugees within that State or locality would be inconsistent with the policies and strategies established under 8 U.S.C. 1522(a)(2)(B) and (C) or other applicable law. If the Secretary of State intends to provide for the resettlement of refugees in a State or locality that has not provided consent, then the Secretary shall notify the President of such decision, along with the reasons for the decision, before proceeding.

Bureaucrats at the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (BPRM) have subsequently interpreted that executive order (in a November 6, 2019 guidance letter and “Notice of Funding Opportunity” to the voluntary agencies (VOLAGs) paid by the federal government to resettle refugees in states) in a way that gives governors alone, rather than the full state governments (which includes a state’s legislature as well as its governor), the ability to send “consent letters” for more refugee resettlements in their state to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

In addition, the BPRM guidance totally ignores the requirement in the president’s executive order that “the State and locality both consent, in writing.” (emphasis added)

Notably, there has long been a “revolving door” between the executives who run the  VOLAGs who are paid to resettle refugees and federal bureaucrats who run the State Department’s BPRM and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, the two federal agencies responsible for running the federal refugee resettlement program.

The November 6, 2019 “Notice of Funding Opportunity” sent by the State Department’s BPRM to VOLAGS said the following about the requirements to obtain state and local consent to secure federal funding for the balance of FY 2020 to resettle refugees in any state:

Using the List of State and Local Government Consent Template, list the states where refugees to be admitted in FY 2020 served by this affiliate or sub-office will reside. For each state, provide in PDF format a letter of consent from the state governor’s office. The letter may consent to initial resettlement for refugees only in certain localities within the state, but otherwise must convey the state government’s unambiguous and unconditional consent to accept the initial resettlement of any refugee in that state in FY 2020. The consent may not be conditioned on acceptance of certain refugees or on any other factor, such as refugees’ race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin. If any such state government consent is unavailable, note the date you sought the consent and that it is unavailable. (emphasis added)

On Friday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said no to more refugees in his state, which has been the number one destination for refugees since 2010.

Bill Lee is one of 42 governors who have said yes to refugees, a list that includes every Democrat governor – Gavin Newsom of California, Andrew Cuomo of New York, Tim Walz of Minnesota – as well as a number of “RINO” Republican governors – Mike DeWine of Ohio, Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, and Chris Sununu of New Hampshire.

During the three months and 11 days since the start of FY 2020, a total of 3,349 refugees have been resettled in the United States, 33 of whom were resettled in Tennessee.

In the remaining 8 months and 18 days of FY 2020, an expected 14,651 more refugees will be resettled in the United States.

With the withdrawal of Texas, and possibly Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina from the program, Tennessee stands a good chance of receiving a higher number of those refugees during these last eight months of FY 2020 than it has for several years.

And, as Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, like Bill Lee a Republican governor who has said yes to more refugees, admitted in an internal memo sent to the Arkansas state legislature last month, “Under the executive order the authorization from the governor of a state is not allowed to limit countries of origin for the refugees.”  (emphasis added)

In his public statements defending his unpopular decision to bring refugees into Tennessee, however, Gov. Lee has claimed he does have the authority “to limit the countries of origins for the refugees.”

“If we engage in this [by saying yes to more refugees in Tennessee], then we get to have some control over who comes. Where they come from. How they’re assimilated,” Gov. Lee told host Michael DelGiorno in a live radio interview on 99.7 WTN last week. (emphasis added.)

On Friday, The Star challenged Gov. Lee on his factually untrue assertion that he has “some control” over the countries of origin of refugees resettled in Tennessee, sending a copy of Gov. Hutchinson’s statement to his office, and asking the following question:

The governor, though, has claimed the contrary. Is Gov. Lee willing to admit now that he was wrong?

Gov. Lee’s office has not responded to The Star’s question.

You can read Hutchinson’s full memo here:

The estimated 720 remaining refugees from Middle Eastern countries among those that are “currently located in Australia, Nauru, or Papua New Guinea who gain access to [the US Refugee Admissions Program pursuant to an arrangement between the United States and Australia” include a number of potentially dangerous refugees, as Breitbart News reported in 2018:

Middle Eastern refugees who will need major mental health treatment are being resettled across five states in the United States, under an Obama-era immigration deal that President Trump has failed to shutter.

Former President Barack Obama signed the Australian-U.S. refugee deal during his last months in office — promising to take 1,250 Middle Eastern refugees off Australia’s hands. . .

The refugees are being held in detention centers on Manus Island and Nauru Island and, despite Trump’s original statement calling the deal “a dumb deal,” the first group of roughly 50 of the mostly male, Middle Eastern refugees have already begun being resettled in the U.S., as Breitbart News reported.

The states who will be taking the refugees include Georgia, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, and Arizona, according to the Guardian. Under current federal law, states do not have to be notified before the federal government resettles foreign refugees in the region.

In June, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported, “Paramilitary police [were] deployed to handle [a] spike in incidents” among these refugees in Papua New Guinea:

There has been a dramatic increase in self-harm and suicide attempts among the refugees and non-refugees in Papua New Guinea since the Australian election. . .

Refugee and author Behrouz Boochani is part of a small group of men on Manus documenting the recent incidents.

“About 50 people attempted suicide and self-harm in Manus and some of them in Port Moresby,” he said.

“So far, five people transfer to Port Moresby and right now that I am talking with you, at least eight people are [being kept] in isolation.”

Like Australia, Papua New Guinea does not want these refugees from the Middle East that could be headed to Tennessee either, as Voice of America reported in July:

Papua New Guinea’s new prime minister, James Marape, has called on Australia Friday to set a deadline for relocating several hundred refugees and asylum-seekers who have been stranded in his country since the closure of a migrant camp.

The Manus Island detention center closed in October 2017 after judges in Papua New Guinea said it was unconstitutional. About 450 former detainees remain on the island in community housing or in the capital, Port Moresby. Most are refugees who have been told by the government in Canberra that as part of uncompromising border polices they will never been allowed to be resettled in Australia. Few have any desire to stay in Papua New Guinea, but their presence in the impoverished country is putting pressure on health services and fueling tensions with local residents.

About 350 of these 720 remaining refugees are currently living in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea after being removed from Manus Island. Many of them are awaiting resettlement in the United States, as the Australian Broadcasting Network reported in September:

One of the hotels in Port Moresby is filled with refugees who have been accepted to live in the United States or who are going through the US interview process.

PNG’s Immigration and Citizenship Authority said 280 refugees from Manus have so far resettled in the United States.

Kurdish refugee Diako Azizi has been in the hotel since March waiting to go to the United States. He has been accepted for resettlement, but he hasn’t been given a departure date.

The Tennessee General Assembly will convene its 2020 session this week and is expected to push back against the governor’s unilateral decision to bring more refugees into the state.

Sources tell The Star that many state legislators consider the governor’s failure to consult with them a slap in the face, especially since it undermines the federal lawsuit the Tennessee General Assembly filed against the federal government in 2016 to end the forced resettlement of refugees in the state, on Tenth Amendment grounds.

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






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17 Thoughts to “Gov. Bill Lee Silent on Report His Decision Allows Federal Government to Send Middle East Refugees to Tennessee That Australia Has Refused”

  1. Patricia Cottrell

    Governor Lee, you were hired by us, the people of the state of Tennessee to do our will, not yours. You will be a one term governor and I am so sorry that I voted for you as is everyone I know.

  2. […] Republican governor, Bill Lee of Tennessee, who agreed to accept refugees also has dodged questions on whether he has opened his state up to these Middle East […]

  3. […] Republican governor, Bill Lee of Tennessee, who agreed to accept refugees also has dodged questions on whether he has opened his state up to these Middle East […]

  4. William R. Delzell

    If you are really serious about stopping the refugee inflow, then the U.S. should quit constantly destabilizing third world nations with our racist and militaristic foreign/military policy. Make their countries livable again and they will want to go back in large numbers!

    Second, why were we so generous with Cubans fleeing Castro and with Eastern Europeans fleeing communism but not with Haitians or El Salvadorans fleeing racism and right-wing dictators? Why the double standard?

    1. Mary

      William, there is no double standard. It has to do with terrorism. If you are comfortable with it, then let them move in with you.

  5. Jean Raspail

    Don’t do it! Don’t do it!

  6. Silence Dogood

    It may be that the safest course for the Governor at this point is not say anything else. How Lee and Kane and Dunn were conned into supporting this refugee program is a matter for big concern. Just more of the “Now that I am elected I don’t care what the voters think” politics. Those politicians need to be recalled and fired.

  7. Beatrice Shaw

    We need more mental health care in Tennessee for sure. Hopefully bringing in these refugees will bring in the much needed federal dollars for more. Australia has many fires so that would not be a good place for refugees. Tennessee doesn’t have any kind of a fire problem and we have lots of land for them to hunt on and lots of rivers and lakes for them to fish. Probably something they haven’t been able to do in camps. God provides

    1. akaMOTU

      Can they live with you?

    2. Mark king

      Yes and you should be the very first person to get mental help!!! Let the RETARTED middle eastern 30yr old man live with you if you want them over here to start with. Middle eastern people hate AMERCIA ,so why would you want them in our country. RIGHT NOW, THEY ARE BURNING THE AMERICAN FLAG, SCREAMING “” KILL ALL AMERICANS” CHOP THIER HEADS OFF, AND MORE. BUT YOU STILL WANT THEM LIVING IN YOUR BACKYARD!! YOU ARE SOOOO STUPID IT’S NOT EVEN FUNNY!!

  8. lb

    When the Libs start screeching about “Affordable Housing”, then tell them it ALL went to the 600+ FOREIGN “refugees” imported by their FELLOW LIBS in 2019.
    Tell them instead of championing foreigners they SHOULD be championing our OWN homeless and disadvantaged.
    We have given the Legislature a SUPER Majority and they damn well BETTER enact some Laws to moot Lee’s Folly!