Tennessee files suit against federal government over cost to state of refugee program
Posted by Ann Corcoran on March 14, 2017
It’s been a long time coming, but yesterday, the State of Tennessee filed its Tenth Amendment case against the US Department of State and the Department of Health and Human Services over the issue of cost-shifting of the US Refugee Admissions Program to the states.
Readers, this is big news!
Here is Michael Patrick Leahy at Breitbart yesterday (I see that Drudge featured the story last night and Fox News has picked it up as well):
The Thomas More Law Center filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the Tennessee General Assembly and the State of Tennessee in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee on Monday challenging the federal refugee resettlement program for violating the state’s sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuit places Tennessee at the center of the national debate concerning the operation of the federal refugee resettlement program.
President Trump will be holding a rally in Nashville on Wednesday to garner public support for his agenda. His revised Executive Order 13780 temporarily halting the federal refugee resettlement program and temporarily banning travel from six Middle Eastern countries goes into effect on Thursday.
The Refugee Act specified that 100 percent of each state’s cost of Medicaid and cash welfare benefits provided to each resettled refugee during their first 36 months in the United State would be reimbursed to each state by the federal government. However, within five years of having created the federal program, Congress failed to appropriate sufficient funding and instead, costs of the federal program began shifting to state governments.
Within ten years of passing the Refugee Act, the federal government eliminated all reimbursement of state costs, a huge financial cost to the states that was, in effect, yet another unfunded federal mandate.
The lawsuit seeks to define Tennessee’s rights in light of the forced expenditure of state funds in support of a federal program from which the state has formally withdrawn.
For all of you in states that have withdrawn from the program***, you must push your governor and legislators to join this case.
If your state has not withdrawn and is willing to sue on states’ rights grounds, this is the direction you should be following: withdraw and then sue when the feds assign a non-profit to run the program!
To further your understanding, here (and below) is the full press release from the Thomas More Law Center, yesterday:
First in the Nation — Tennessee Files Lawsuit Challenging Constitutionality of the Federal Refugee Resettlement Program
ANN ARBOR, MI – The Thomas More Law Center, a national nonprofit public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, MI, today filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the State of Tennessee, the Tennessee General Assembly, and two State legislators, challenging the constitutionality of the federal refugee resettlement program as a violation of the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the principles of State sovereignty.
Defendants in the lawsuit include the U.S Departments of State and Health and Human Services, and their respective Secretaries.
Assisting the Thomas More Law Center, pro bono, is attorney B. Tyler Brooks with the law firm of Millberg Gordon Stewart PLLC located in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, noted, “Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts has observed, ‘The States are separate and independent sovereigns. Sometimes they have to act like it.’ We intend to follow that advice in our lawsuit on behalf of the State of Tennessee and its citizens. We are asking the Court to stop the bleeding out of millions of Tennessee taxpayer dollars each year to fund a federal program from which the State officially withdrew in 2007.”
Thompson added, “Although there are compelling policy reasons to dismantle the existing refugee resettlement program in favor of resettling refugees in Middle East safe- zones as President Trump has suggested, this lawsuit focuses solely on the unconstitutional way the federal program is currently operating in the State of Tennessee.”
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. The purpose of the lawsuit is not to inflict harm on refugees, but to preserve the balanced constitutional relationship between the federal government and the States. It seeks a court declaration that the federal government has violated the Tenth Amendment and an order permanently enjoining the federal government from forcing the State of Tennessee to pay money out of its treasury to finance the federal refugee resettlement program.
The Tennessee General Assembly, by overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate, passed Senate Joint Resolution 467 (“SJR 467”) during the 2016 legislative session, which authorized legal action to stop the federal government from unconstitutionally commandeering State funds to finance the federal refugee resettlement program.
State Senator John Stevens and State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver are the two legislators who joined the lawsuit as individual plaintiffs. Senator Stevens is First Vice-Chair of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Finance, Ways and Means, which is responsible for all measures relating to taxes and oversight of public monies in the State’s treasury. Representative Terri Lynn Weaver is the Chairman of the House Transportation Subcommittee which is charged with oversight of the budget relating to transportation.
Senator Stevens stated, “Through federal economic dragooning of our State’s budget, past Presidents and Congresses have quieted my vote and thereby my constituents’ voices. President Trump through executive action has reversed the overreaches of the Obama Administration in numerous ways. I trust President Trump in this regard. However, he needs our help.”
Continued Stevens, “The Constitution does not allow the Federal Government to force me as the elected representative of the 24th Senate District to implement federal programs while they sit in Washington insulated from the consequences.”
Representative Weaver, who played an instrumental role in mobilizing legislative support for passage of SJR 467, commented, “Of all the legislation that I have worked on, this by far is the most important. The only way we can get back to our constitutional beginnings and the intent birthed by our Founding Fathers is to go and take it back. We are looking forward to linking arms with the Thomas More Law Center for the long haul to regain sovereignty for our great State.”
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, another strong advocate for the lawsuit, emphasized the point that the lawsuit should not be taken as a criticism of the Trump Administration, “We want to convey to the President that we support his efforts concerning immigration and refugee resettlement and believe this suit for declaratory relief is consistent with what would likely be his position regarding states like Tennessee which have withdrawn from the refugee resettlement program but are forced to continue paying costs associated with it.”
When Congress enacted the Refugee Resettlement Act of 1980, the explicit intent was to assure full federal reimbursement of the costs for each refugee resettled and participating in benefit programs provided by the states. Eventually, however, federal reimbursements to the states for these benefit programs were reduced and, by 1991, eliminated entirely. The states thereby became responsible for the costs of the programs originally covered by the federal government.
Tennessee officially withdrew from participation in the refugee resettlement program in 2007. However, instead of honoring Tennessee’s decision to withdraw from the program, the federal government merely bypassed the State and appointed Catholic Charities of Tennessee, a private, non-governmental organization to administer the program. Catholic Charities receives revenue based upon the number of refugees it brings into the State.
Currently, Tennessee State revenues that could otherwise be used for State programs to help Tennesseans are, in effect, appropriated by the federal government to support the federal refugee resettlement program. This arrangement displaces Tennessee’s constitutionally mandated funding prerogatives and appropriations process.
The Complaint is here.
The Thomas More Law Center defends and promotes America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and moral values, including the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life. It supports a strong national defense and an independent and sovereign United States of America. The Law Center accomplishes its mission through litigation, education, and related activities. It does not charge for its services. The Law Center is supported by contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations, and is recognized by the IRS as a section 501(c)(3) organization. You may reach the Thomas More Law Center at (734) 827-2001 or visit our website at http://www.thomasmore.org.
*** These are the so-called Wilson-Fish states that have withdrawn from the program over the years.
In addition to these below, several states have withdrawn in the last year and those include: Texas, Kansas, New Jersey and Maine. Florida is considering it right now.
Texas citizen activists must press your governor. He has already shown a willingness to sue the feds, but this is a much stronger case!
To the right of the state (and one county) is the federal NGO running the program in the state (I don’t know who has been assigned in the 4 recent withdrawals mentioned above):
Alabama: USCCB – Catholic Social Services
Alaska: USCCB – Catholic Social Services
Colorado: Colorado Department of Human Services
Kentucky: USCCB – Catholic Charities of Louisville, Kentucky Office for Refugees
Louisiana: USCCB – Catholic Charities Diocese of Baton Rouge, Louisiana Office for Refugees
Massachusetts: Office for Refugees and Immigrants
Nevada: USCCB – Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada
North Dakota: LIRS – Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota
San Diego County, CA: USCCB – Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego
South Dakota: LIRS – Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota
Tennessee: USCCB – Catholic Charities of Tennessee, Tennessee Office for Refugees
Vermont: USCRI – Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program