According to multiple reports, the very-much-on-the-defense Governor Lee claimed at First Tuesday that counties defer to the state’s consent for refugee resettlement. One attendee described Lee’s version as “the counties are at the mercy of the state.”
This is so NOT what the President’s Executive Order says and NOT what the State Department guidance says.
The EO and the Funding Notice which ORR says “operationalizes” the EO, say over and over and over and over again, that local governments have a role and a stake in deciding whether to have refugees imported into their counties.
The written guidance issued by the State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees & Migration says specifically that the State Consent Letter could “consent to initial resettlement for refugees only in certain counties” which Arkansas’ governor did. This strongly suggests that there would have been communication and consideration for concerns which counties might have.
Remember, Bill Lee rode his tractor in all those rural counties which he says he cares the most about, so he should know who to talk to about refugee resettlement there. He certainly knew who to pander to for votes.
Governor to county consultation could have happened if the Governor hadn’t been so insistent about imposing his personal agenda on the entire state.But he never bothered to ask the state legislature or county officials who have to open up the purse to pay for the Governor’s personal agenda.
Every public system and every state taxpayer in Tennessee is impacted by refugee resettlement. For example, take required language services. The Tennessee Department of Human Services must offer applications for food stamps and cash welfare (TANF) in Somali, Arabic and Spanish. They used to (and probably still do upon request), offer help in two Kurdish dialects, Bosnian and Vietnamese.
There are plenty of good reasons why counties might have something to say about federal resettlement contractors spreading their customers anywhere from 50 – 100 miles away from the resettlement office.
For example, since 2016, Tennessee has received 4,113 refugees which included 279 Bhutanese, 405 Burmese and 366 Somali refugees.
Demographic data from the State Department’s website shows that of the 11,627 Bhutanese brought to the U.S., 27% were under 14 years old and only 15% of the adult population attained a secondary school education level.
Of the 26,500 Burmese who were brought to the U.S. over 9,500 were under 14 years old, 426 were over 65 and only 20% of the adult population attained a secondary school education.
Of the 15,689 Somali arrivals, over 6,000 were under 14 years old and only 8% of the adult population attained a secondary school education.
Refugee students who enter public school systems and who don’t speak English require specialized English Language Learner (ELL) services. School systems must also hire translators to assist the parents. Many students lack regular formal education in their native language.
Even though the federal government mandates teaching English to students so they can access the education being provided, very little of the cost is funded by the federal government; the majority of the cost is funded by the state with a required local share.
And even though refugee students are the smaller part of the ELL population (wanna guess who the majority might be?), it’s the refugee students who bring the much larger number of different languages to serve. Not saying these students shouldn’t be taught, but the Governor has no business blindly imposing costs (which he isn’t even allowed to do under the state Constitution) so he can fulfill his Biblical and personal mandate.
Bill Lee believes he can force feed refugees into any county in the state he chooses, so counties would be wise to formally object if they disagree with the Governor. In the end silence may equate to acceptance. The EO, the Funding Notice, the State Department Report to Congress and even the Department of Justice response to the VOLAG lawsuit trying to enjoin the EO, repeatedly say that they really want to just try and put refugees in communities that want to support them.