Legislators May Address Resettlement Process in 2016 (Theresa Laurence, Tennessee Register)

Posted 01/01/2016

As the 109th General Assembly of the Tennessee state legislature prepares to convene on Jan. 12, Jennifer Murphy, executive director of the Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission, will be keeping a close eye on bills of interest to the state's three bishops, including legislation that could affect refugees.

"I feel certain some legislation will be introduced," she said, but most lawmakers will wait until closer to the deadline of Jan. 18 to file specific bills.

As a lobbyist for the Catholic Public Policy Commission, which represents the state's three bishops in public policy matters, Murphy said she will continue to educate state lawmakers about refugees and Catholic Charities' role in resettling them in Nashville.

A joint state and local government committee hearing in December that focused on refugees could spur some new bills in 2016, or revive at least one from 2015. One issue discussed at the hearing was whether the state could reacquire administration of Tennessee's refugee resettlement program, which Catholic Charities' Tennessee Office for Refugees currently runs, through an agreement with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.

One bill last session would have the state reacquire control of the refugee program, but that would not be possible until a four-year contract agreement between Catholic Charities and the federal ORR ended, Murphy said.

Most questions at the December hearing centered around the screening and resettlement process of refugees, with some legislators asking witnesses whether they could guarantee the safety of their constituents if refugees lived in their communities.

"We will never be 100 percent safe and secure," Murphy said. "But we have the most stringent vetting of refugees than any other country." All screening of refugees is done at the federal level; Catholic Charities of Tennessee has two departments that work with refugees once they have been cleared to resettle here.

One goal of Murphy's for the next session is to continue to engage legislators about refugees and help them understand who they are and the arduous process they must undergo to come to the United States. "I understand this is a time of tension," she said. But "the weak link of national security is not the refugee program."

Catholic Charities of Tennessee has decades of experience resettling refugees in this state, and "we do it because we are compassionate and its part of our mission," Murphy said. "I'm proud of the work Catholic Charities does and I look forward to a chance to get out the facts."

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