Both refugee resettlement and illegal immigration in Tennessee have been a top focus of my legislative agenda since I was sworn into office in 2019.

Now I am one of five House members appointed by Speaker Cameron Sexton to a special legislative committee to address refugee issues in Tennessee.

The 10-person committee consists of five members of the House and five members of the Senate.

It was formed to specifically evaluate the number of migrant children being permanently relocated to Tennessee by the federal government, the number of migrant children being flown into Tennessee and then relocated to other states by the federal government, how to increase transparency from the federal government regarding its relocation of unaccompanied migrant children to and through Tennessee and the impact, financial and beyond, on Tennesseans, as it relates to the federal government’s migrant relocation program.

The committee was formed on the heels of at least four planes carrying migrant children landing in May at the Wilson Air Center in Chattanooga.

Indeed, there are reports that Chattanooga is being used by the federal government as a central location for resettling unaccompanied minors from foreign countries in the United States under a veil of secrecy.

Tennesseans deserve transparency, Tennesseans deserve answers and Tennesseans deserve to have their legislators stand up against the federal government.

I am deeply honored and extremely grateful to Speaker Sexton for appointing me to this important committee to address issues about which I’m particularly passionate.

Deterring illegal immigration to Tennessee and ending benefits for illegals in Tennessee was a focus of my campaign platform, and has been the subject of a number of bills that I have pursued over my three years in office.

For example, I filed legislation to:

• reate the Tennessee Lawful Housing Act to make it unlawful for any lessor to rent housing in Tennessee to an illegal alien;

• xpand E-Verify in Tennessee to eliminate the employment of illegals;

• revent Tennessee from registering any birth certificate issued to any child born to a mother who is not lawfully present in the United States unless the father is a U.S. citizen and provides (1) proof of citizenship, (2) a sworn acknowledgement of paternity and (3) a written agreement to provide financial support to the child until the child is 18 years old;

• upport President Trump’s efforts to end “birth right” citizenship;

• equire courts in Tennessee to inquire into a defendant’s immigration status and to not only consider such status in setting bonds, but also to cooperate with ICE;

• mpose fees on money transfers from Tennessee to foreign countries by illegals and to use the more than $125 million generated annually to increase teacher and law enforcement pay and fund infrastructure projects;

• nd stop refugee resettlement in Tennessee.

Tennesseans recognize the harm caused by both illegal immigration and refugee resettlement in our great state. This is why Tennessee voters overwhelmingly supported Trump in 2016 and overwhelmingly voted for Trump supporters, including myself, in both 2018 and 2020.

According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, illegal immigration in Tennessee cost Tennessee tax payers $793 million in 2017 alone.

This must end, and, in order to bring it to an end, we need to curtail the ability of illegal aliens to obtain jobs, housing or benefits in Tennessee. I want to make Tennessee be the very last place that illegal aliens want to come.

Just as with illegal immigration, numerous reasons similarly dictate against continued refugee resettlement in Tennessee.

First and foremost, almost all economists, and simple logic, indicate that adding refugees to Tennessee’s labor pool would have an adverse effect on wages for Tennesseans at the bottom of the economic scale.

Since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), both rural Tennessee and rural America have suffered historic losses in good-paying manufacturing jobs.

I saw first-hand the devastating effects of NAFTA on small-town workers, their livelihoods and how that devastated the local economy.

We need to protect and help American manufacturing grow while at the same time protect and try to increase wages for those Tennesseans at the bottom of the economic scale.

It is the right thing to do, not just for Tennesseans but for all Americans. It is too soon in my estimation to ease wage pressure by importing refugee labor and/or allowing illegal immigration labor to continue to operate in Tennessee unabated. My motto is “Tennesseans First.”

Second, the refugee resettlement program costs millions of dollars, which the federal government transfers to the state for absorption, and Tennessee taxpayers end up funding the program.

Instead of supporting refugees, Tennessee tax dollars should be supporting Tennesseans first and foremost.

In Tennessee, we have homeless veterans who we need to be helping before refugees. We have children living on dirt floors and/or in meth homes who we need to be helping before refugees.

Third, refugee resettlement poses not only high costs, but also high risks in relation to security. There are inherent problems with screening and vetting refugees.

Electronic footprints are rare or non-existent, and reliance exclusively on hard documents is rife with fraud by individuals seeking to create false identities using counterfeit paperwork.

Fourth, the toll that refugee resettlement takes not only on Tennessee, but also on local jurisdictions within the state can expand exponentially due to chain migration policies allowing each refugee to ultimately add to the population multiple new immigrants, who often do not speak English, are uneducated, lack marketable skills and further drain state and local resources.

Inevitably, they increase the burden on public schools, social service agencies and emergency rooms and further strain local infrastructure such as roads and public housing.

Fifth, the lines are often blurred between “humanitarian aid” and financial gain with respect to refugee resettlement programs.

The federal refugee resettlement program has spawned a private refugee cottage industry consisting of purported “charitable groups” that lobby for more and more refugee admissions, inasmuch as it equates to greater financial gain and more money in their pockets.

Sixth, although economic integration and self-sufficiency are allegedly the goals of organizations that have developed a profitable refugee industry, refugees are often abandoned shortly after their arrival, leaving the taxpayer-subsidized welfare system to take over their support.

Refugees are eligible for numerous welfare benefits immediately upon their arrival, just as if they are native-born citizens.

Relative to native-born citizens, however, refugees are three-five times more likely to receive food stamps, SSI, Medicaid, cash welfare and public housing. For example, a 2013 study reflected that 74% of refugees received food stamps.

For these reasons, I firmly believe that the refugee resettlement program is not in the best interest of Tennessee or Tennesseans. We need to take care of our own first — Tennessee and Tennesseans first!

Only when the vast majority of Tennesseans are employed with good jobs and good wages and in a position to take care of their families without relying upon income assistance from the government should Tennessee even consider allowing refugees to resettle here.

Allowing refugee resettlement may help the refugees, the private organizations assisting with their resettlement and businesses in search of low-cost labor, but it does not help poor Tennesseans, looking for jobs that pay good wages, or Tennessee taxpayers.

We cannot ignore the burden of refugee resettlement on existing Tennessee citizens, who will face greater competition for jobs and suppressed wages, higher taxes to support new refugee members of their community and who will live with the environmental consequences.

I look forward to serving on this important committee and continuing to fight to put Tennesseans first and end illegal immigration to and refugee resettlement in Tennessee.

 

BRUCE GRIFFEY, R-Paris, represents the 75th District, which includes Henry County, in the Tennessee House of Representatives. His email is rep.bruce.griffey@capitol.tn.gov.

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