Tennessee Governor Bill Lee
Resolution condemns Governor Lee’s decision to welcome refugees,
challenges authority to do so.
NASHVILLE – The Tennessee House of Representatives voted 72 to 25 (2 present but not voting) to pass HJR741, a resolution to oppose Governor Lee’s decision to allow refugee resettlement to continue in Tennessee and to challenge his authority to do so. The resolution is the latest in a years-long campaign by anti-refugee activists to erode support for the program and to stop the resettlement of refugees in Tennessee.
HJR741 restates claims made in a similar anti-refugee resolution sponsored by Representative Weaver in 2016. That resolution initiated a lawsuit against the federal government challenging their authority to resettle refugees in Tennessee without the legislature’s consent. The lawsuit has been thrown out by two federal courts, and an appeal to have it reviewed by the full panel of judges in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals was also rejected.  

Despite public statements insisting the resolution was a matter of clarifying constitutional authority, the passage of the resolution in 2016 was fueled by explicitly xenophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric and imagery, including social media graphics equating refugees with terrorists (for examples of images, see p. 4 of AFJ Report on Mark Norris). Despite the clear history and intent of the resolution, Representative Weaver is once again dubiously insisting that HJR741 is not about refugee resettlement at all but simply a constitutional debate.

HJR741 is one of several pieces of legislation introduced this year to challenge Governor Lee’s decision to welcome refugees.

On Wednesday, March 4, more than 60 refugees from across Tennessee will come to the capitol for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition’s Refugee Day on the Hill to share their stories, defend the life-saving work of refugee resettlement, and ask legislators to oppose anti-refugee bills.

The following is a statement from Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, Policy Director for TIRRC Votes:

“This resolution is election year politics at its worst. Representative Weaver’s resolution does nothing to alter or strengthen the resettlement program, instead it increases skepticism about refugees and re-hashes arguments that have already been settled by the courts and by the General Assembly. There are many things legislators could do to support refugees and invest in the success of all families who call Tennessee home. This resolution accomplishes nothing except to spread misinformation, divide our communities, and make refugee families feel unwelcome. Representative Weaver should spend her time trying to pass legislation that meaningfully improves the lives of her constituents instead of scapegoating refugees.”


In September 2019, President Trump issued an executive order, requiring governors and county executives where refugees are resettled to opt-in to continuing refugee resettlement in their communities. In December, Governor Lee provided consent for refugee resettlement in Tennessee. In all, more than 40 governors, including 19 Republicans, and hundreds of counties across the country granted consent. A temporary nationwide injunction on the EO was placed EO 1388 on January 15, 2020 by Judge Peter J. Messitte of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland.

While the 2020 legislative session is focused on undermining the Governor’s consent, efforts to erode support for refugees have long been tactics used by a fringe group of far right extremists.

In 2011, the Tennessee General Assembly passed the Refugee Absorptive Capacity Act, which required the Tennessee Office for Refugees to provide quarterly reports to state and local governments about resettlement. In 2013, Tennessee General Assembly commissions a report by the state fiscal review committee on the “federal cost-shifting” to the state which found that refugees were a net economic gain for the state. While the state had expended approximately $753 million on refugees and their descendants, it was estimated that the state had earned at least $1.386 billion during the same period from refugees and their descendants.

In 2016, Representative Weaver was the House sponsor of the resolution that initiated Tennessee v. United States – a lawsuit that challenged the federal government’s authority to resettle refugees.