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Refugees are welcome; prejudices are not

Johnson City Press • Feb 9, 2020 at 5:00 AM

Washington County leaders were right to politely put aside a request made Thursday by state Republican Executive Committeewoman Anita Hodges Taylor for the county to officially oppose refugee resettlement.

Taylor, like other party officers elsewhere in the state, asked Health, Education and Welfare Committee members to advance a resolution saying the county “does not consent” to a decree by Gov. Bill Lee for Tennessee to continue accepting refugees from other countries.

Thankfully, the commissioners turned Taylor away instead of the refugees.

County Mayor Joe Grandy pointed out that a dozen refugees currently call Washington County home. Commissioner Jodi Jones rightly explained that settled refugees enter this country legally after a thorough federal vetting process that can last between 18 months and three years.

The committee said it needed more information before deciding the issue, but we hope this resolution doesn’t return.

It and other decrees like it are inspired by ignorance and xenophobia. Recognized refugees are fleeing their home countries for fear of being persecuted because of their races, religions, nationalities, political opinions or social group identities. Their and their families’ lives are in danger.

When campaigning in Carter, Unicoi and Washington counties for her seat on the executive committee, Taylor’s slogan was “Guarding the Heart & Soul of our Party.” By asking the county to tell refugees they aren’t welcome here, she is using neither.

As our region and its leaders are actively working to reverse a trend of declining population growth, it would be counterproductive to bar the door to families needing a place to live and thrive.

Our area is homogeneous culturally, and we could all benefit from interacting with and learning from people from outside our bubble.

Lee understands this. His decision to allow refugees into Tennessee, despite lawmakers’ opposition, was based on his personal experience working with refugees.

From his work in temporary camps in other countries and with domestic support programs, he knows that vetted refugees aren’t dangerous and aren’t looking to be drains on taxpayers.

Like the governor, we will warmly welcome resettled refugees to our area, and we’d like them to know that Taylor does not speak for all Northeast Tennesseans.

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