Do States Have A Say In Refugee Resettlement?

by Don Barnett –
Center for Immigration Studies –

Tennessee lawsuit highlights federal overreach

Washington, D.C. (January 24, 2018) – A new report by the Center for Immigration Studies traces the history of the federal-state relationship regarding refugees, identifies flaws, and proposes solutions.

The report highlights the ongoing lawsuit filed by the State of Tennessee against the federal government, addressing the extent to which the federal government can compel a state to pay for a federal program that the state does not want implemented within its borders and/or elects not to fund with state resources in deference to other state funding priorities.

Don Barnett, a Center Fellow, said, “Over time, the federal government has shifted the fiscal burden of resettling refugees to the states, often requiring resources be taken from social services, infrastructure, schools, as well as other state taxpayer priorities to implement a federal program. This was not the intent of the Refugee Act passed in 1980 and likely violates the Tenth Amendment.”

If the court rules in the State of Tennessee’s favor, states would be able to  withdraw from the refugee resettlement program. But Barnett writes that the “easiest route to restoring a state’s right to withdraw fully from the U.S. refugee resettlement program and halt the initial resettlement of refugees within its borders” would be simply to rescinding a legally questionable 1994 regulation.

View the entire Backgrounder at:

Among the findings:

• Repealing regulation 45 CFR 400.301 could have the immediate effect of allowing states to withdraw from the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) and end initial resettlement activities in the state.

• Today, states that withdraw from the program find the program continues in the state with the potential to operate on a larger scale than before withdrawal and with no state participation.

• As implemented, states have a limited and ill-defined role in the federal USRAP.

• Congress has shirked its responsibility to fully fund the refugee resettlement program.

• The federal government has shifted much of the fiscal burden of refugee resettlement to states. Three years of reimbursement for the state portion of welfare programs used by refugees in the state, such as Medicaid, TANF and SSI, was authorized by the 1980 Refugee Act. This support was ended entirely.

• The Act authorized Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA) and Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) for three years for refugees who do not qualify for cash welfare and Medicaid. This support was gradually scaled back; today RCA and RMA are available for only eight months.

• This cost shift to the states means the federal government is, in effect, using state funds to operate a federal program. In cases where a state asks to withdraw from the program, continuation of the program means the state has lost its ability to control its own budget and is deprived of its sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment.

• Consultation among “stakeholders” about where refugees are to be settled is ill-defined in the USRAP. At times there is no meaningful consultation with state authorities.

• The federal government uses a legally questionable regulation (45 CFR 400.301) rather than statutory law to allow private non-profits to operate in a state where the state has asked to withdraw from the program.

• By one reading of the law, prior to 45 CFR 400.301, there was no authority to resettle refugees in states that chose to withdraw from the program. In other words, prior to 1994 when 45 CFR 400.301 was introduced, the states were – knowingly or not – participating in and paying for a voluntary program from which they had every right to withdraw at any time with the expectation that no refugees would be resettled in the state.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply