Refugee Resettlement Resources
The executive order from September 2019 that made changes to the refugee resettlement process has generated a number of questions and concerns around this issue. We are making these resources available to you so that you can be best informed about developments related to refugee resettlement in Tennessee. Feel free to share any of this information with your fellow officials or county residents if you feel that would be beneficial.
What did the executive order do?
The executive order reduced the total number of refugees being accepted into the United States and gave the State Department 90 days to develop a process to ensure to the greatest degree possible that refugees would only be resettled into locations where both the state and local governments have consented to receive refugees. As a result of the executive order, refugee resettlement agencies working in Tennessee reached out to Governor Lee and to certain county mayors in December to request their consent to continue resettling refugees into this state.
Which counties are affected?
This has primarily been an issue affecting the four largest urban counties. According to a report from the Department of State, 5610 individuals were resettled in Tennessee during the five year period from October 1, 2014 to October 1, 2019. The vast majority of those individuals were resettled in Shelby, Davidson, Knox and Hamilton Counties. For example, during the quarterly period from July 1, 2019 to September 30, 2019, a total of 221 individuals were resettled in Tennessee. Of that number 210 were placed in one of those four counties.
Is this issue currently in litigation?
A federal court in Maryland issued a preliminary injunction January 15, 2020, stopping the implementation of the executive order until a court determines its constitutionality. Resettlement agencies in that state had challenged the constitutionality of delegating immigration decisions to state and local governments. Prior to this injunction, Governor Lee and the mayors of some of the urban counties where these programs operated had consented to continue receiving refugees. Depending on the outcome of the litigation, it is unknown whether consent will still be required.
Is this issue being considered at the General Assembly?
In response to Governor Lee's decision, some legislators filed bills to require local governments to be authorized by the General Assembly before they could agree to receive refugees.
Does my county need to act?
If your county was not contacted by an agency requesting your permission to accept refugees, there is really nothing you need to do. Under the executive order, you did not have to opt-out, you had to opt-in or consent to receive refugees.
How many people are we talking about?
For the federal fiscal year 2019 under the reduced number of total refugees allowed in the country, it is projected that 583 individuals may be resettled in Tennessee, with all of those expected to be placed in Shelby, Davidson, Knox and Hamilton Counties.
Do cities have to consent as well?
Our understanding is that the executive order directed the State Department to get consent from state and county governments or county equivalents. The county equivalent language is to address consolidated governments and states that have alternate forms of local government (boroughs or parishes) or for independent cities that are not part of a county. Tennessee does not have boroughs, parishes or independent cities, so the decision is made at the county level.