Local Refugee Resettlement Could be in Limbo

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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) — This story has been updated since 6 pm. ————————————————————————————-

Earlier today, U. S. District Judge Peter Messitte issued a preliminary injunction which blocks the enforcement of President Trump’s executive order allowing States to opt out of accepting refugees.

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Locally, Bridge Refugee Services has been instructed by their national agencies to no longer submit the consent forms by Jan. 21, pending the outcome of this court challenge.

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Governor Bill Lee announced in mid-December that Tennessee will continue to accept refugees.



Only a few other Republican led states have indicated their plans to do that.

At the Hamilton County Commission meeting, a local refugee resettlement expert explained why Hamilton, could be one of only 4 Counties in Tennessee to receive federal funds for resettlement.

She’s from Bridge Refugee Services, and says Mayor Jim Coppinger plays a key role in this decision.

Last year, the United States accepted 30 thousand refugees. Hamilton County got about 80 of those people.

This year, President Trump has capped that number at 18,000.

But he’s given local government leaders some autonomy in whether or not they will accept Federal Grant money to resettle them in their communities. Both the Governor and Mayor Jim Coppinger must sign letters of acceptance.

Mayor Coppinger says there’s lots of misunderstanding in the community over the issue.

“The social media I was referring to is some of the vicious attacks that were made on Governor Lee, for signing it, but again, there’s a lot of misinformation as it relates to what refugees would be coming here, again, they’re fully vetted, they’ve been coming to our country for decades and these are people that come that have lived productive lives,” said Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger.

Federal Grant dollars accompany the acceptance of the refugees for resettlement. But, to be eligible for those Federal Grants, the letter must be submitted by next Tuesday. Mayor Jim Coppinger won’t say whether he plans to sign the letter before that deadline.

Ms. Peshterianu says over 90 percent of refugees become self sufficient within the first four months of resettlement here.

“It has never fallen less than that, and especially in this economy, we have the lowest rate of unemployment, we have jobs in Chattanooga, and we have people who are willing and ready to take any job available, to provide for their families and to start rebuilding their lives. All of them are fleeing persecution,” said Marina Peshterianu, Associate Director of Bridge Refugee Services.