JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) Governor Bill Lee decided, in December, to keep accepting refugees in Tennessee, declining an offer by President Donald Trump’s administration to allow states, including local governments, to stop resettling them.
According to the Tennessee Office for Refugees, most refugees are settled in the Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis and Chattanooga areas. Some people are hoping local government leaders allow for more refugees to be able to seek asylum in the Tri-Cities region.
Director of Bridge Refugee Services, Drocella Mugorewera traveled to Jonesborough from Knoxville, on Monday, to educate commissioners on the Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) Committee, about the program she works with and the refugee resettlement process in general.
She did so in a special called meeting at the Washington County Courthouse. This comes as the committee considers a resolution to send a letter to Gov. Lee opposing refugee resettlement.
As a former refugee, Mugorewera is working to bring more refugees to the Tri-Cities. She called her program life-saving.
“I was explaining the process and the goal, so the refugee resettlement program is a life-saving program. It’s a humanitarian program. The goal is to help these refuguees coming in our country to be self-sufficient as soon as possible and to become contributing member of the community.”
The-now U.S. citizen hopes the country can continue to help those who seek asylum, either temorarily or permanently.
“I am very grateful that I was welcomed and helped. They helped me to find a job, and then to connect me to the community members. Of course, my children were behind, so they came three years after. I am grateful that American facilitated the family reunification and everyone now is a professional. We are giving forward to this country. We love America and we will do everything we can to make this country do good for everybody,” Mugorewera explained.
More than 2,000 refugees resettled in Tennessee during the 2016 budget year. That number dropped to 478 in 2018. President Trump has limited the number of refugees taken in to no more than 18,000 in this fiscal year.
“We cannot do this by ourselves. This is why, also, we use many volunteers and the community assistance teams,” Mugorewera told News Channel 11’s Pheben Kassahun.
She hopes this does not deter local governments to deny future refugees.
She explained, “When they are on their feet, they can pay their bills themselves. People are probably worried about the resources so America has enough resources for not only the refugees – for veterans, for homelessness. Any person who is in need should be helped as a member of the community.”
The Rwanda-native came to the United States in 2009. Since then, she has helped various refugees from other countries in Knoxville and Chattanooga.
“Within four to six months on average, every employable refugee who are speaking the language or not speaking the language, they get employed and start assisting their families, so we want to use this refuguee resettlement model to help low income families or other marginalized groups. It’s going to be a model that they can adopt and become self-sufficient,” Mugorewera said.
This is not the end of the discussion. The health, education and welfare committee will discuss sending a letter to Governor Lee opposing refugee resettlement at its next meeting. That is scheduled for Thursday, March 5 at 1 p.m. at the Washington County Courthouse.
The motion passed – seven commissioners voted yes to put the letter regarding refugee settlement on the agenda; one opposed. Jodi Jones was the only commissioner who explained her reason in voting. Here is her explanation on why she voted against putting the topic on the HEW agenda: