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Tennessee Sues Federal Government for “Forced” Refugee Care

courthouse-1223279_640-300x200Tennessee filed a lawsuit against the federal government this week, claiming a violation of the 10th Amendment after it threatened to cut the state’s Medicaid funding unless it agreed to allocate funds for the resettlement of refugees in the country. The suit, filed in Jackson, Tennessee, by the state’s General Assembly and 2 representatives, argues that the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program—comprised of the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) and Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)—violates the protection of state sovereignty and the Constitution’s Spending Clause.

The lawsuit states: “This suit is not intended to inflict harm on immigrants or refugees from any nation. Rather, this is a suit that seeks to preserve the constitutional relationship between the federal government and the states as mandated by our nation’s founders.”

Tennessee state officials point out that in 2015, they spent over $31 million to help resettle refugees through TennCare, the state’s version of Medicaid, which receives federal funding. After voluntarily participating in the program, Tennessee tried to pull out unsuccessfully in 2008.

“Despite Tennessee notifying the federal government that it declined to further implement, fund, or participate in the federal refugee resettlement program, the federal government—through various regulations and statutes—coerced the state to continue funding the refugee resettlement program by threatening the state with the loss of federal Medicaid funding,” the complaint reads.

“The federal government nullified the decision of the people of Tennessee to withdraw from an ostensibly voluntary federal program and thereby commandeered state funds to support a federal initiative.”

Tennessee officials further claim that it is being threatened with a Medicaid budget cut of more than $7 billion—close to 20 percent of the entire state’s budget. They argue that the conditions set by the government for allowing refugees to receive Medicaid benefits run contrary to the function of Tennessee’s Medicaid program.

“The refugee resettlement program also commandeers other state funds and instrumentalities through health and welfare programs and public schooling, including the program known as ‘English Language Learners,’ as mandated by 20 U.S.C. § 1703,” the complaint states.

With the lawsuit, Tennessee is seeking a court order to keep the federal government from bringing in more refugees into Tennessee, unless the resettlement is funded by federal money. If successful, Tennessee will join Texas, which officially withdrew from the national refugee resettlement program in 2016.

If you or a loved one is trying to enter the United States through the refugee program and want to know what your legal options and rights are, sit down for a consultation with immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle of the Lyttle Law Firm. Call our offices today to learn more about how our services can help you.