The state of Tennessee is challenging the constitutionality of the federal government’s refugee resettlement program.
“We believe it’s a violation of the 10th Amendment, which declares states are sovereign and that the federal government can’t use state money, cannot use state employees, to run a federal program,” said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center.
The socially-conservative nonprofit group filed the lawsuit Monday on the state’s behalf. Although the timing coincides with President Donald Trump’s embattled efforts to impose a temporary travel ban on visitors and refugees from six predominantly Muslim countries, Thompson said the effort behind this lawsuit began long before Trump’s election.
Tennessee was the first state to challenge the program.
Last year, Tennessee legislators passed a resolution calling on the state to sue the federal government over its refugee program. But Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, both Republicans, took no action on it.
Catholic Charities has been administering the federal refugee resettlement program in Tennessee since 2008, when the state officially withdrew from the program. But legislators backing the lawsuit say state taxpayers continue to pay costs associated with refugees who require public assistance with health care and education.
“If they go to a public school and they don’t speak English and they need to have English language learning classes, those are paid for in part by the State of Tennessee,” said state Sen. John Stevens, a Republican.
The lawsuit has drawn criticism from immigrant rights advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union.
“We believe that the actions of these politicians do not represent the majority of Tennesseans who believe in helping those in need — especially those fleeing violence and terror to protect their families,” Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, said in a statement published by the organization.
The lawsuit’s supporters insist their intention is not to harm refugees, but to get the federal government to take responsibility for unfunded mandates it imposes on states.
“If it’s a priority for the federal government to resettle individuals in the various states, it’s only fair that they should pick up the tab for it,” Stevens said.
Fox News’ Chip Bell contributed to this report.