MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee became one of only a few Republican governors to decline an offer from President Donald Trump.
Gov. Lee went against the legislative grain Wednesday by saying Tennessee will provide “safe harbor” to refugees fleeing persecution.
World Relief Memphis is an organization that helps resettle refugees and immigrants like the Frutan family from Afghanistan and the Madogo brothers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“Last week, we got to go downtown to a naturalization ceremony and celebrate best friends we welcomed five years ago,” said P.J. Moore, director of World Relief Memphis.
Moore’s organization has taken a lead role in advising Gov. Lee about the decision.
“President Trump signed an executive order that required the state department to create a process where states and counties need to give written consent to the state department that’s its OK for refugees to be resettled in their jurisdictions,” Moore said.
While some Tennessee lawmakers would like the governor to say no, he’s instead saying yes.
“The United States and Tennessee have always been, since the very founding of our nation, a shining beacon of freedom and opportunity,” Lee said in his letter to Lt. Governor Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton.
He went on to say “my commitment to these ideals is based on my faith, personally visiting refugee camps on multiple continents, and my years of experience ministering to refugees here in Tennessee.”
In response, the house speaker and lieutenant governor said their “personal preference would have been to exercise the option to hit the pause button on accepting additional refugees in our state.”
“It’s such a complicated issue,” Shelby County GOP Chairman Chris Tutor said. “It’s a prudential judgment how to balance that passion for people with concerns about safety, about assimilation. Your heart goes out to people, but you want to make sure we’re taking care of citizens first.”
Moore said they already are doing this, and the government already vets refugees through seven layers of agencies.
And even with the governor’s announcement, they still have room to help hundreds more people than they’re allowed. World Relief Memphis said their community partners, including employers and health care providers, have capacity to help about 400 people resettle in Memphis each year.
He expects to help a total of 40 this year, though.