State Senator takes major step to reform refugee program in Tennessee

In what may be the first such effort in the Nation, Tennessee State Senator Jim Tracy has introduced a bill that seeks to regain some local and state control over the refugee resettlement program in his state—control that has been gradually usurped by the US State Department, the US Dept. of Health and Human Services and unelected federal contractors.

When the Refugee Resettlement Act (Kennedy, Biden and Jimmy Carter) was passed in Congress and signed into law in 1980, the law required “consultation” with local governments but that requirement is almost never followed except in the most cursory way.

The Act also made a provision for a state to opt-out of the refugee program altogether.  Today only Wyoming takes no refugees.

From the Shelbyville Times Gazette today:

SB1670 is another bill Tracy filed with Bedford County in mind. The proposed legislation would codify federal regulations to ensure that local communities would be able to absorb refugees.

The bill would make sure that a town’s “absorptive capacity” would be evaluated at regular intervals in consultation between the local governments and the resettlement agencies before commitments are made for refugee resettlement.

A number of refugees from a variety of countries, such as Somali, Burma and Egypt, have moved to Shelbyville to be closer to jobs at the Tyson Foods facility.

Tracy said that there has been “a lot of discussion across the state about this, particularly in Bedford County … but other counties also.” The proposed bill would require resettlement agencies to let local governments know when a large number of refugees are coming “because it puts a burden on the local community.”

The bill would require the charitable organizations that sponsor the refugees to let the state know when refugees are coming, how many, “what they’re (the agencies) getting paid and where the money is going.”

In 2008, the state withdrew from administering refugee services, but appointed Catholic Charities as the fiduciary agency for the state’s refugee programs.

The Tennessee Office for Refugees, a department of Catholic Charities, would be required to meet four times a year with local governments representatives to plan and coordinate the appropriate placement of refugees in advance of their arrival.
“Right now, communities don’t know when that’s going to happen,” Tracy explained. “It puts a burden on local communities, whether they be law enforcement, schools, or those kind of things.”

The state refugee office would also be required to accept applications from a local government for a moratorium on new resettlement if the host community “lacks sufficient absorptive capacity,” the bill reads.

If a determination is made that further resettlement in the host community “would result in an adverse impact to existing residents,” then the Tennessee Office for Refugees would suspend additional resettlement until it is jointly determined by local officials and the state refugee coordinator that there is an “absorptive capacity.”

The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Ken Yager and Rusty Crowe, with the House version of the bill introduced by Rep. Bill Dunn of the 16th District.

This concept of “sufficient absorptive capacity” sounds similar to a proposal I’ve mentioned several times on these pages and that is that a “social and economic impact assessment” should be made by the US State Department in advance of refugees being placed in a new refugee resettlement site and a periodic reassessment be made for existing refugee resettlement “preferred” communities.    Right now the Volags (a misnomer because they are not voluntary but paid federal contractors) literally sit around a table putting pins in a map and tag-you-are-it if they think your town has jobs, social services and public housing available.

By the way, when the Obama Administration came into power, with much fanfare in the White House they set out to “reform” the refugee program.  The only thing that came out of that was to throw more money at it (which Congress now has to take away) and I see back in June I said their reform was meaningless, here.

All eyes on Tennessee!