Even As Resettlement Slows, Tennessee Lawmakers Sue To Cut Off Refugee Funding (Chas Sisk, WPLN)

Posted 03/13/2017

NOTE: Catholic Charities of Tennessee is not a party in this lawsuit.

Tennessee lawmakers have followed through on plans to sue the federal government over refugee resettlement.

The move comes at a time when organizations in the state are already cutting back on services for asylum seekers. The suit was filed Monday in a federal court in Jackson by the Thomas More Law Center, a Michigan organization that says it aims to defend and promote "America's Judeo-Christian heritage and moral values."

The center did so on behalf of the state of Tennessee, the General Assembly and two lawmakers, including state Sen. John Stevens. The Huntingdon Republican says the key issue is whether Tennessee should have to spend money on programs it hasn't approved.

"This issue is not about refugees at all," he said. "It's about the federal government forcing us spend state dollars, which I would submit, under the spending clause and the Tenth Amendment, is unconstitutional."

Tennessee essentially outsourced refugee resettlement to private nonprofits in 2007. If successful, the suit would force the federal government to take over funding for any services refugees receive, such as English language instruction in public schools and TennCare coverage.

The suit was originally announced when President Obama was in office. In the 12 months that ended in October, the U.S. admitted nearly 85,000 refugees, including more than 12,000 from Syria.

Since then, the Trump administration has slashed the number of refugees who can come into this country.

That's led Catholic Charities, the state's biggest resettlement agency, to cut staff. And World Relief, an evangelical charity that's been active in Nashville since the 1980s, is closing down its operation here completely.

Stevens denied that the influx of refugees under Obama, or their religion or nationality, motivated the lawsuit.

But the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee condemned the litigation as "driven by animus toward Muslims."

The Tennessee General Assembly's decision to move forward with this lawsuit is not only very troubling, but unjust and wrong," says executive director Hedy Weinberg. "There is no reason to attack vulnerable families fleeing from terrorism."


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