GOP leader wants county to say 'no' to refugees

Robert Houk • Feb 7, 2020 at 8:00 AM

An official with the Tennessee Republican Party wants Washington County commissioners to “opt out” of a federal refugee resettlement program.

State GOP Executive Committeewoman Anita Hodges Taylor asked the Washington County Health, Education and Welfare Committee on Thursday to pass a proposed resolution stating the county “does not consent” to a decree by Gov. Bill Lee for Tennessee to continue to accepting refugees from other countries.

She said a number of counties are considering similar resolutions, which have been approved by Bedford, Dyer and Franklin counties.

“I support Gov. Lee, and I believe his heart is in the right place, but he needs to consult with counties,” said Taylor, who represents the 3rd District on the state Republican Executive Committee.

Members of the committee, however, said they needed more information before weighing in on the issue. They agreed to hold a special meeting to hear from officials of Catholic Charities of Tennessee, the organization that administers refugee relocation in the state.

Lee announced in December that Tennessee would continue resettling refugees, even though President Donald Trump has given states the opportunity to no longer participate in the program. The governor’s decision disappointed Republican leaders in the state General Assembly, who have sued the federal government over its refugee resettlement program. 

Taylor said the federal refugee program — which allows the resettlement of refugees within a 100-mile radius of Knoxville and three other major cities in Tennessee — could become a burden on state taxpayers. 

“Federal cash and health benefits run out after eight months,” she told committee members. “After that, it’s on the backs of state taxpayers.”

Commissioner Jodi Jones noted it was important to point out the distinction between legal and illegal immigrants, and those who are classified as refugees under the federal program.

“Refugees come into this country legally,” Jones said. “They are vetted by the federal government.”

Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy agreed, adding there are 11 refugees currently living in the county.

“It has been as many as 19,” Grandy said.

Jones told her colleagues she was concerned about sending a dissenting message on refugee relocation to Lee at a time when the county is working with the governor to develop a new Tennessee College of Applied Technology program at the old Boones Creek Elementary School and “other tangible issues.”

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