FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 27, 2019CONTACT: Judith Clerjeune, email@example.com, (615) 612-9615
White House Issues Double Blow to Refugee Resettlement Program, Follows Tennessee’s Lead in Shirking National Responsibility to Resettling Refugees
New policies set lowest refugee admission in U.S. history and would allow states and localities to turn their backs on those seeking safety and security from persecution
NASHVILLE, TN - Yesterday, the Trump administration set the refugee admission goal to 18,000 refugees for the next fiscal year, which begins in October. This is the lowest in the history of refugee resettlement. At the same time, the administration issued a new executive order that would enable states and localities to veto refugee resettlement in their communities. These shameful and egregious proposals will effectively shut down refugee resettlement and decimate the infrastructure to welcome, keeping hundreds of refugee families apart, and endangering the lives of people fleeing persecution and violence.
The movement to grant states and local communities power to reject refugees has deep roots in Tennessee. In 2011, the TN General Assembly passed the Refugee Absorptive Capacity Act, which attempted to give localities power to reject refugees. In 2016, they passed a resolution to initiate a lawsuit against the federal government in order to end refugee resettlement in the state, claiming the federal government did not have the authority to resettle refugees without the state’s consent.
Read more about the role of Tennessee in the national anti-refugee movement in TIRRC’s 2015 report, Countering the Backlash.
The following is a statement from Judith Clerjeune, policy officer at the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC):
“The shamefully low admissions number will gut the refugee resettlement program and dismantle the infrastructure to support and welcome refugees across the U.S. But for Tennessee, these announcements all but guarantee that politicians will try to end refugee resettlement in our state completely.
In an effort to score cheap political points, our state legislators have passed policies that will put Tennessee first in line to turn refugees away - they have even sued the federal government to keep refugees out. Now Trump has given them the greenlight to shut our doors.
But throughout every attack on refugee resettlement, communities across Tennessee have joined together to stand against these proposals and are already organizing responses to this most recent attack. We’re counting on Governor Lee to defend our ideals and make sure Tennessee doesn’t turn our back on people in need of refuge.”
The following is a statement from Kayo Beshir, a TIRRC community organizer working with refugee communities:
“As a former refugee and now a community organizer, I know firsthand the positive impact resettlement programs had for myself, family and the entire community. Refugee communities are deeply rooted in Tennessee. These new proposals threaten to further family separation by continuing to keep refugees families apart.
Tennesseans who moved here through the refugee resettlement program know the life-saving nature of this work. We are resilient and we’ll be organizing to fight for the future of refugee communities and to ensure that our state and country lives up to our most fundamental ideals for being a place of refuge for those seeking safety.”
Background on Tennessee’s Attempts to Limit Refugee Resettlement in the State:
Since 2011, a few state legislators have been willing partners with extreme, anti-refugee movements by openly casting suspicion on refugee communities in public statements and drafting legislation intended to undermine resettlement activity. A clear precursor to the policies reported in this executive order is seen in the 2011 Absorptive Capacity Act passed in Tennessee, better known as the ‘Refugees Not Welcome Act.’ TIRRC was ultimately unable to defeat the bill but fought hard to ensure the bill had no practical effect. The bill essentially allowed city governments to request a non-binding moratorium on future resettlement activities if it was determined that refugee community members create any pressure in the labor market for US-born workers.
In 2016 the Tennessee General Assembly passed a resolution demanding the state file a lawsuit against the federal government to end resettlement to the state. After passing both chambers, then-Governor Bill Haslam allowed the resolution to become law without his signature. Attorney General Slatery announced that he would not file a lawsuit on behalf of the state of Tennessee.
While the attorney general made it clear that a lawsuit would not be in the best interest of Tennesseans and would be unlikely to succeed, he delegated his authority to the General Assembly to hire outside counsel on its behalf. The Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), has represented the state in the case, which has been now been dismissed by both the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Background on Refugee Resettlement and Trump’s Attempts to Dismantle the Program: Since World War II, the United States has been a world leader in refugee resettlement, resettling an average of 95,000 refugees per year - even resettling up to 200,000 in certain years.
But in 2017, the Trump administration began to dismantle the refugee resettlement program, slashing the number of individuals we resettled each year. Last year, the administration announced a cap of 30,000 refugees, the lowest in the 39-year history of the U.S. refugee resettlement program - eroding the resettlement program by 75%. Recent reports have also surfaced that Trump aides are floating a resettlement admission of zero for fiscal year 2020.
In Tennessee, we’ve already deeply felt the impact of the gutting of the resettlement program - from recently welcoming an average of 1,600 refugees per year to now resettling less than one-third that amount. In 2017, after Trump unleashed his first blow to the resettlement program by dropping the number of refugees admitted to a historic low of 45,000 World Relief Nashville closed their doors after thirty years, devastating our local infrastructure to welcome and support refugees.
The decimation of the refugee resettlement program comes as the number of displaced persons worldwide has reached a historic high of 70 million, with over 25 million qualifying for refugee status worldwide. Currently, less than 1% of the world’s refugees are resettled to a third country, a number that will continue to decrease as the Trump administration continues attacks on our nation’s systems of protection.