Refugee Chief Praises Nashville as Resettlement Site Despite State-Level Pushback

Acting Assistant Secretary David M. Robinson

Acting Assistant Secretary David M. Robinson

The U.S. State Department’s head of refugees met with local officials Thursday. His visit is partially in response to pockets of resistance to resettlement in Tennessee.

Refugees from Somalia have flocked to Shelbyville, becoming the subject of national news stories and an independent documentary that shows how much trouble the refugees have had fitting in.

Last year, the state senator who represents the area successfully passed a law that allows communities to ask for a moratorium on resettlements. But David Robinson, who is an acting Assistant Secretary of State, says no one has been resettled in Shelbyville.

“They interpreted that as I understand it in some way as the federal government sent these people here without consulting with us. No we didn’t. People went there – on there own, legally – because they could get jobs there.”

The Tennessee Office for Refugees says almost all placements in Middle Tennessee happen in Davidson County. After meeting with local officials, Robinson says the greater Nashville area is welcoming and seems to appreciate its role in resettlement.

Feds Say State Law on Resettlement Echoes Current Policy

Robinson says Tennessee’s law called the “Refugee Absorptive Capacity Act” allowing is one of a kind. He also says it merely echoes current federal policy and that communities already have a say in how many refugees they can handle.

“To us, the way that that has actually been written into law here in Tennessee makes perfect sense.”

So far, the Tennessee Office for Refugees has not received any applications for a resettlement moratorium. It requires some kind of proof of potential harm to existing residents.

Last year, 1,600 refugees were resettled in Tennessee. Many came from the war-torn nation of Somalia. Even more are arriving from Southeast Asia, including the countries of Burma and Bhutan.

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