Gov. Bill Lee announced on Wednesday that Tennessee will continue to allow refugees to be resettled in the state, defying legislative leaders within his own party.
His decision comes weeks before the deadline given by President Donald Trump to states to either consent to or reject resettlements in writing.
In a letter to the Tennessee House and Senate speakers, Lee said that providing “a safe harbor for those who are fleeing religious persecution and violent conflict is the right decision.”
“The United States and Tennessee have always been, since the very founding of our nation, a shining beacon of freedom and opportunity for the persecuted and oppressed, and particularly those suffering religious persecution,” Lee wrote. “My commitment to these ideals is based on my faith, personally visiting refugee camps on multiple continents, and my years of experience ministering to refugees here in Tennessee.”
Lee’s consent is valid for only one year.
Multiple groups and organizations celebrated Wednesday’s decision.
World Relief Memphis sent a letter to Lee earlier this month asking the governor to consent. The letter was signed by 659 local evangelical leaders.
PJ Moore, the director of the organization, told WPLN they wanted to Lee to consider his faith during his decision-making process.
“As Christians, our savior chose to identify as an immigrant, as a refugee,” Moore said. “That’s something to take note of and consider how we treat refugees and immigrants in our communities.”
But not everyone in the state agreed with the decision.
In a joint statement released Wednesday, House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Senate Speaker Randy McNally made clear they oppose Lee’s decision.
They pointed to the lawsuit initiated by the state legislature against the federal government in 2016 to stop refugee resettlements.
“Our opinion has not changed on this issue since legal action was taken, and our personal preference would have been to exercise the option to hit the pause button on accepting additional refugees in our state,” the statement reads. “However, the federal order makes this the sole decision of the governor, and he has made his call.”