One of the core tenets of journalism is to "find the local angle" for a national or international story. If, for instance, there's a big, destructive hurricane in Florida, Memphis media might do a story on a Midtown family trapped in a Destin hotel or maybe an article on MLGW workers being sent to help reconnect power. Like that.
One of the national stories that's been brought to the forefront in the past three years is immigration. Our president has made the demonization of refugees and immigrants a core element of his doctrine. Irrational fear of immigrants — especially brown ones — is stoked on a near-daily basis.
That's why it was so gratifying to read about Tennessee Governor Bill Lee's refusal to be cowed by his party's leader into denying refugees, well, a refuge, in our state. Lee is a self-avowed Christian who apparently believes Jesus meant it when he said, "Love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Jesus also preached that Christians should serve "the least of these ... feeding the hungry and clothing the naked."
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And it was equally gratifying to read last week about Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris signing a commitment to continue the county's participation in the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program. Harris said, "The U.S. is an inspiration of hope around the world. When we have the ability to act, we have a moral duty to help those in need, those in dire circumstances."
Lee's and Harris' actions were taken in response to an executive order from the president that allows state and local governments to opt in — or out — of the program.
There is already dissent brewing in Nashville from the usual GOP troglodytes in the General Assembly. They are upset with Lee's actions and say they plan to do whatever they can to stop the horde of scary brown folks from getting into our fair state.
I use the word "horde" loosely, because the number of refugees coming into the U.S. — and into our state — has declined drastically in the past three years. Tennessee accepted 692 refugees in 2019. Around 40 are expected to settle in Shelby County this year. I think we can handle it.
The Trump administration is limiting the total number of refugees allowed into the country this year to 18,000, down from 30,000 in 2019 — and down from traditional levels of nearly triple that number in prior years. This administration's commitment to erasing the Emma Lazarus poem at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty is unwavering. We don't want none of your "huddled masses," buddy.
In addition, the Trump administration and its Justice Department are continuously tweaking regulations and requirements for refugees and immigrants who are in-country seeking to file for asylum or citizenship, making the process more difficult and more expensive. It's a "death by 1,000 cuts" policy, designed solely to discourage immigration and assimilation.
That's why Lee's and Harris' actions were so gratifying. Good leaders aren't afraid to stand up for what's right. They seek out ways to unite us, ways to carry on the proud tradition of America as the world's melting pot. They urge us to welcome the stranger, to honor our best instincts.
Bad leaders seek out our fault lines and exploit divisions; they sow fear and ignorance; they even tweet photos of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi in Muslim garb and accuse them of supporting terrorists, a level of loathsomeness that seems unfathomable, even for this president. But, apparently, it is not.
The choice is clear, in Memphis and nationally, and in this case, the guys with the local angle got it right.