Legislators eye return to state control of refugee resettlement

At a four-hour hearing Wednesday, Tennessee legislators raised the possibility of the state ending the outsourcing of refugee resettlement, reports The Tennessean.

The state had control of resettlement until the administration of Gov. Phil Bredesen determined to end the state’s involvement. Catholic Charities of Tennessee took over the program in 2008.

The state moving to take back control would likely involve an act of the legislature and agreement from federal officials. But Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, said he wouldn’t be surprised to see lawmakers try to maneuver to have more influence over resettlement policy.

“It wouldn’t surprise me at all if some bills were filed. I’m more concerned about just having the proper information, I’m not interested in taking control of it,” Yager said after the hearing, which he led.

“Some may. I just think we need to be fully informed and assured that the governor’s recommendations are being at least listened to, hopefully adhered to.”

…Holly Johnson, who runs the Office for Refugees within Catholic Charities, spoke at length with lawmakers about her organization’s role. Although some lawmakers — chiefly Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge and Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Rutherford — had questions about reporting requirements and a lack of state oversight, state Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, said he thought Johnson did more than enough to justify keeping the program with Catholic Charities.

“In our state we do a lot of stuff with outsourcing, where we bring in private groups, we have private-public partnerships. This is just another example. I didn’t hear anything today that led me to think they were not doing a good job,” Dickerson said after the hearing.

“I think there is overlap between having a welcoming refugee policy and having public safety, and I think what they delineated today about the multi-step process made me feel really good about the hoops that people have too jump through to get here.”

The hearing room was packed with both refugee advocates and people who oppose allowing more refugees into the state. Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition Co-Executive Director Stephanie Teatro said the information provided at the meeting shows the refugee screening process is thorough.