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Pushback for TN House Opposition to Refugee Resettlement

Refugees arrive in the United States with the status of "legal resident" and can apply for U.S. citizenship after five years. (Adobe Stock)
Refugees arrive in the United States with the status of "legal resident" and can apply for U.S. citizenship after five years. (Adobe Stock)
March 4, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee residents who also are refugees are gathering outside the State Capitol today to protest House lawmakers' passage of a resolution that they contend says they aren't welcome here.

The resolution opposes Gov. Bill Lee's decision to continue the state's refugee resettlement program. Judith Clerjeune, policy manager for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, said that after President Donald Trump's executive order giving states the option to refuse refugees, some legislators saw an opportunity to close the state's doors.

"We really see this as another attempt to go after refugee communities and to attack the long history of this program," she said, "and make our state one that is not supportive of refugee communities."

She said the resolution wouldn't change any current laws. Its supporters have contended that the decision on whether the state should accept refugees should be made by the General Assembly and not rest solely on the governor.

The vote was 72-25, with two House members present but not voting.

Clerjeune said Tennessee has been in the midst of a legal battle over this issue. In 2017, state legislators attempted to sue the federal government, arguing that it was unconstitutionally forcing states to pay for costs associated with its refugee resettlement program.

"Their lawsuit has been thrown out multiple times by multiple courts, saying that we don't have actual grounds or standing to do that," she said, "but the state is still intent on continuing, and they are planning on appealing."

According to state data, last year 692 refugees were resettled in Tennessee, mostly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burma and Afghanistan.

The text of House Joint Resolution 0741 is online at wapp.capitol.tn.gov, and the lawsuit is at thomasmore.org.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - TN