Governor Bill Lee’s staff would not say Saturday what measures he or other state officials could take if Afghan refugees relocate to Tennessee without the feds scrutinizing them first for health or security risks.
Members of Lee’s communications team did not return The Tennessee Star’s request for comment before Saturday’s stated deadline.
The Tennessean reported Friday that Lee supports resettling American allies from Afghanistan — but not without detailed information about who is coming.
The Star asked Lee’s office what options, if any, he could take without that scrutiny? Or is the governor powerless in the matter?
The Tennessean reported that the state will take in at least 415 Afghan refugees in the coming weeks.
“Those initial projections show Nashville receiving the vast majority of those individuals — 350 — while Memphis is set to receive 25 and Knoxville and Chattanooga 20 Afghan refugees each. Individuals arriving through the federal program will be served by private local resettlement agencies,” the paper reported.
“Lee’s office confirmed Friday they had received limited information earlier in the week from President Joe Biden’s administration about plans to resettle Afghan around the country.”
The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week warned the chief of Afghan evacuation operations that measles is spreading among refugees and poses a major public health threat. That health threat includes the potential for larger imminent outbreaks in U.S. communities already reeling from COVID-19.
One of the Nashville organizations taking in Afghan refugees refused to say this week whether someone or some entity is vetting those refugees for health or security risks. Staff at the Islamic Center of Nashville did not return The Star’s repeated requests for comment.
Some 44 Afghan refugees who were brought to the U.S. were flagged as potential national security threats in the last two weeks.
A measles outbreak occurred last week among Afghan refugees who recently arrived at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin. Fort McCoy is one of the military bases housing thousands of Afghan refugees after recent evacuation attempts because of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
The Tennessee-based Bridge Refugee Services announced last week that they were preparing to accept more Afghan refugees and send them to East Tennessee.
Lee has declined to say what action, if any, he deems necessary to respond to new Afghan refugees.
The governor did not publicly state late last month whether he wants Tennessee to take in Afghan refugees. Two of the state’s other top Republicans, however, made their opinions known.
Tennessee Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said he doubted whether taking in Afghan refugees is wise.
“I do not have confidence in the Biden administration’s vetting process concerning the refugee issue, much less his ability to work with law enforcement and immigration officials,” Sexton said.
“His administration has been a failure on both immigration and foreign policy. Therefore, I do not think it is a good idea for Tennessee to accept Afghan refugees.”
Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), meanwhile, said it’s important that the government “halt illegal immigration, protect our borders and limit those entering our nation.”
“Afghanistan is a unique situation. For nearly 20 years, we have had a significant military presence there and solicited help from many inside the country to fight against the Taliban,” McNally said.
“Those that helped us are now at risk. Our nation should do everything it can to assist legitimate and authentic political refugees from Afghanistan in finding new places to call home.”
– – –