Local Refugee Resettlement Could be in Limbo


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.


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.

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Ashley is a lifetime Chattanooga area resident, and a 1987 graduate from UTC, with a BA in communications. While there, he was commissioned through the ROTC program, served simultaneously in the 1/181st field artillery Tn. Army National Guard, finished Airborne school, was a member of the Scabbard and Blade military honor society and ROTC Rangers, the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, played snare drum with the UTC Marching band, and played in a southern rock band called Southern Atmosphere, while working a full time job as a trainer at the Sports Barn. He also won the Southeastern United States teenage bodybuilding competition during this time. Ashley has been with News 12 Now for 21 years. Prior to working here he was a videographer, director, producer and editor at Falcon Cable TV in Dalton, Ga. for 6 years where he produced thousands of commercials and dozens of hour long features. He also worked as a freelancer and employee at another network affiliate in Chattanooga. He has operated a part time video production business from home for 25 years. He says his passion is telling stories that feature people who give of themselves to help others, and stories that inspire people to make positive changes in themselves and their communities. Ashley is ecstatically married to Debbie Henderson, and has two step sons, a daughter in law, a sister, and lots of aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, and great nieces and nephews. His parents are celebrating their 60th anniversary this year. Ashley and Debbie are active members of Brainerd Baptist Church. His interests include weight training and cycling with his wife, photography, poetry, playing drums, and checking off items from his extensive honey-do list. If you would like to reach Ashley, email him at ahenderson@wdef.com.