Governor Bill Lee of Tennessee is facing a backlash from state Republicans after his decision last month to bring more refugees to the state.
In late December, Breitbart reported that at least 31 counties in Tennessee were considering a resolution rebuking Lee’s approval for more refugees. Now, according to the news outlet, eight additional counties have joined the revolt, bringing the total to 39 counties out of the state’s 95 that are at odds with the Republican governor.
The state GOP has a history of fiercely opposing the refugee resettlement program.
In March of 2017, Republican state lawmakers in Tennessee sued the federal government over the program, arguing that it “violates the 10th Amendment and places an undue economic burden on the state’s taxpayers.”
Lee is one of 19 Republican governors who have asked the State Department to resettle refugees in their states, rejecting President Trump’s Executive Order allowing them to stop resettling them. President Trump in September capped the number of refugees the U.S. will accept to just 18,000 from Obama’s high of 110,000 in 2016, meaning a maximum of 18,000 refugees can be resettled in the U.S. between October 1, 2019, and September 30, 2020.
The administration also said it would prioritize refugees “who have been persecuted for religious beliefs, Iraqis who have helped the U.S. overseas, and legitimate refugees from Northern Triangle countries.” In his Executive Order, the president said that states and municipalities must give written consent before refugees can be resettled in their jurisdictions.
So far, the only Republican governor to take the President up on his offer is Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who announced on Friday that his state will not accept new refugees this year.
According to Breitbart, a number of refugee contractors in Tennessee have been given control of the refugee resettlement program in the Volunteer state.
Currently in Tennessee, refugee contractors — the non-government organizations that resettle refugees in the U.S. for the federal government — maintain offices in Davidson County, Shelby County, Hamilton County, and Knox County. This means that refugees could be resettled in neighboring counties even if they have not consented to admit refugees.
The resolution reportedly under consideration in Tennessee was recently adopted in Loudon County.
BE IT RESOLVED that [County Name] does not want to be forced into participating in the federal refugee resettlement program due to either Governor Lee’s consent and/or being within the permissible placement radius of a resettlement agency office.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that [County Name] requests that Governor Lee retract his consent for initial resettlement in Tennessee for both the one year period of time as stated in his letter and/or the actual consent period required by the Funding Notice.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that [County Name] requests that in the event Governor Lee does not retract his consent for initial refugee resettlement, that [Lee] submit a revised letter of consent to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and to Lt. Governor Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton exempting non-consenting counties from forced participation in the initial resettlement of refugees in Tennessee.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that [County Name] requests that Governor Lee by written notice inform the resettlement agencies which maintain offices and operations in Tennessee that they may not place arriving refugees in non-consenting counties.
An insider told Breitbart’s John Binder that state legislators were “blindsided” by the governor’s decision to allow more refugee resettlements in the state for fiscal year 2020. “The resolution is a record saying ‘Bill Lee, this is what this county does not want to do. This is our nonconsent saying we do not want refugees in our county right now. We’re letting you know that we do not consent,’” the insider said.
Lee defended his decision during a discussion at a GOP luncheon in Nashville last week, cautioning fellow Republicans not to fall prey to “misinformation” about refugees. The governor said that he has a “biblical mandate” to help the oppressed refugees, stressing that they are not “illegal immigrants.”
“My wife has worked with a group called Servant Group International that works with Kurdish refugees that live in Nashville. The women group that she works with are mostly women whose husbands were killed because they served as interpreters for American soldiers alongside the American military when we fought in Iraq. And their husbands died as a result of working with Americans. I’m not turning my back on those people,” Lee said.
“When people talk about refugees, they’re not talking about illegal immigrants. Those are very different things,” the governor added. “We need to have a very clear understanding of that. When you start talking about this topic, you need to be informed about the difference between illegal immigration and legal refugee settlement.”
“Our nation has a long history of being a beacon of refuge for the politically and religiously oppressed,” Lee told reporters after his decision last month. “I think it’s the right decision, I feel good about it.”
Reportedly, more than 2,000 refugees resettled in Tennessee during the 2016 budget year, dropping to 478 in 2018 under Trump and has hitting 692 in 2019.
Since 2005, nearly 860,000 refugees have been resettled across the U.S. — a population that is more than 80 times the size of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Effectively, for the last 15 years, nearly 60,000 refugees have been resettled in the country, equivalent to adding the population of Pensacola, Florida, to the U.S. every year.
Refugee resettlement costs American taxpayers nearly $9 billion every five years, according to the latest research. Over the course of five years, an estimated 16 percent of all refugees admitted will need housing assistance paid for by taxpayers.
Via Breitbart, here is a list of Republican governors asking for more refugees:
Bill Lee of Tennessee
Mike DeWine of Ohio
Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas
Kim Reynolds of Iowa
Charlie Baker of Massachusetts
Gary Herbert of Utah
Doug Burgum of North Dakota
Chris Sununu of New Hampshire
Doug Ducey of Arizona
Eric Holcomb of Indiana
Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma
Pete Ricketts of Nebraska
Kristi Noem of South Dakota
Jim Justice of West Virginia
Mike Parson of Missouri
Brad Little of Idaho
Larry Hogan of Maryland
Mike Dunleavy of Alaska
Phil Scott of Vermont