Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Parts Of Tennessee’s Refugee Act and State Dept’s Visit To State Stop Making Sense

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 12, 2012

David Robinson, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration apparently spent some time discussing the new refugee law implemented in Tennessee last year – the Refugee Absorptive Capacity Act. State Sen. Jim Tracy, who sponsored the Act, alleges that the State Department thinks the new bill [actually a law now], which allows for local refugee moratoriums and codifies the federal regulation requiring quarterly meetings between resettlement agencies and local officials, is “just fine”. (???) An article in the Shelbyville Times-Gazette gives a view of the meeting from Tracy’s perspective:

A top representative of the U.S. State Department was in Tennessee this week to discuss a law dealing with the state’s refugee resettlement program.

The Refugee Absorptive Capacity Act, which originated from the desk of State Sen. Jim Tracy, became law last July. It’s the first bill of its kind.

It requires the state’s refugee program agency, Catholic Charities, to meet four times a year with local governments to plan and coordinate “the appropriate placement of refugees in advance of the refugees’ arrival …”

The law also allows local communities to apply for a “moratorium” on refugee resettlement if those agencies overload local resources, and so far, Tennessee is the only state that has passed this type of legislation…

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

Tyson Foods needs workers who will willingly accept relatively low pay for the repetitive motion, cold environment jobs, and new refugee immigrants need jobs to support their families. (Alternatively, Americans could pay higher meat prices and the government could require companies like Tyson Foods to pay a more livable wage.)

…On Wednesday, David Robinson, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, met with Tracy and other parties to discuss the law passed last year, the state senator told the T-G.

“That was the whole purpose of the visit, and they thought the bill was fine,” Tracy said, but he added that even though provisions in the new state refugee law passed last year was already codified in federal law, it had not been enforced…

Perhaps the State Department refugee office isn’t bothered by the new law’s quarterly meetings requirement, since it’s already an ORR regulation, but why would they think that the new law is just fine? Are moratoriums compatible with the constitutional provision that allows people freedom of movement? The government may not single out specific groups of people to restrict their freedom of movement (individuals get to decide for themselves where they want to live in this country).

…”If you are going to bring refugees into a community, you need to meet with community leaders, mayor, councilmen, commissioners, school superintendents, hospitals, anyone that an influx of a refugee group would affect,” Tracy said, explaining the reasons for the law being passed last year.

…Tracy said he “thought it was interesting that we had to codify something in state law to get [the State Department's] attention.”…

Yes that is interesting. Also interesting is why other government refugee program-related regulations and contract requirements are also regularly ignored. World Relief feels free to worship on the public’s nickel, even though its prohibited by a federal regulation, and their ORR partner has ignored our complaint about that practice. Also, the quite minimal “minimum requirements” that the resettlement agencies agree to meet in the refugee program are regularly flouted, and the State Department refugee office does not enforce those requirements or penalize the resettlement contractors. In practice this does not seem to have been working well for decades — the resettlement contractors just continue to violate regulations and contract requirements year after year. (What does that say about the public/private partnership philosophy in which contractors are put on pedestals and government oversight agencies don’t exercise much authority?)

…Tracy explained he also had questions for Robinson, talking about the local unemployment rate and about refugees getting on state assisted benefits, while the State Department discussed “sustainability” of the refugees. Supposedly, the refugees have 90 days to become sustainable in this country, Tracy said.

“The question we had for them was ‘what’s the definition of sustainability,'” Tracy said. “We had a good discussion about it.”…

Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if they shared that discussion with the public? After all, this is a publicly run and funded humanitarian program. The State Department refugee office apparently gave advance notice to all so-called “stakeholders”, except for the last minute notice to the public and press.

…”It was a pretty high level meeting,” Tracy said. “They were very concerned who was going to be in the meeting, it was very interesting.”

Tracy said that the State Department wanted to clarify that they had no control over secondary migration, when refugees leave the city they were initially settled in and go elsewhere.

The senator said that’s why the law is “so important, because we’re bringing refugees into Tennessee, the majority of them settle in Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis and Chattanooga,” but they eventually migrate to smaller towns…

So, what the state senator doesn’t seem to understand is that, under the Refugee Absorptive Capacity Act, Shelbyville and other localities will not be able to request any local moratoriums on refugee resettlement since no one is resettling refugees to those places. Refugees are moving to Shelbyville on their own for meatpacking industry jobs, in what is known as “secondary migration”.

…”It was interesting that they (the State Department) would travel to Tennessee to talk about the legislation that we passed last year and I really take it as a compliment,” Tracy said Friday. “I think they were already supposed to be doing that, and in Tennessee, they have to be doing that now.” Read more here

I guess I’d like to hear the State Department’s version of what was said at thispretty high level meeting”, but since they treat refugee resettlement as a secret program, which seems only to guard against accountability, I won’t hold my breath.

***UPDATE*** — While the public had to sit outside the meeting one of the so-called “stakeholders” invited to the meeting was the lobbyist Jennifer Murphy of the Catholic Public Policy Commission of Tennessee.

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