Faith, service drive Tennessee gov to keep taking refugees

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In this Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019 photo Fartun Abdi, a 25-year-old Somalian sits at work in Nashville, Tenn. Abdi arrived in the U.S. as refugee with her mother and two step-siblings. She now works as a refugee case assistant for Catholic Charities. Abdi said she voted for Lee and prayed over his refugee decision. Tennessee won't stop resettling refugees, Republican Gov. Bill Lee said Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019, rejecting the option offered to states by President Donald Trump's administration. (AP Photo/Jonathan Mattise)

NASHVILLE, TN – Fartun Abdi last saw her father face-to-face when she was about 1 year old living in Somalia, just before her family separated to flee fighting in the country.

For most of her life, she wasn't sure her father was alive.

Now a mother of five, Abdi lives in Nashville and works with the Catholic Charities of Tennessee, helping refugees like herself make new homes in America. The future of those efforts was uncertain until Wednesday, when Republican Gov. Bill Lee pointed to his own faith when he rejected anofferby President Donald Trump's administration to let states halt resettlement.

Abdi found out her father was alive five years ago, and he and several of her siblings remain in Africa amid Trump's tightened immigration restrictions. Those include substantially lower caps on refugees and a travel ban that blocks citizens of five Muslim-majority countries, including Somalia, and their immediate families from traveling or immigrating to the United States.

Lee's decision doesn't dissolve those hurdles to make it to the U.S. as refugees. But Abdi, who said she prayed over Lee's refugee decision, said she now knows he was listening to her community.

“I'm speechless and very happy with the outcome," said Abdi, who said she voted for Lee in 2018. "We are happy that Gov. Lee listened and heard the concerns and wishes of refugees. We are glad to have Lee as our governor.”

Lee's decision put him at odds with top Republicans in the Legislature, who had sued the federal government over its refugee resettlement program and hoped Lee would accept Trump's offer. Acknowledging pressure from fellow Republicans, Lee put a time limit on his initial approval, saying it was only valid for a year. He even said he supports the lawsuit effort.

“I certainly know there’s disagreement on this subject, but there’s disagreement around most subjects,” Lee told reporters Wednesday. “You agree to disagree and move forward. But I think it’s the right decision and we’re moving forward on it.”