Impassioned Gov. Lee defends refugee resettlement participation before GOP activist group

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee delivers his "State of East Tennessee" address Thursday night, Feb. 6, 2020, at the East Tennessee State University Millenium Center in Johnson City, Tenn. (David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier via AP)

NASHVILLE - Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee on Tuesday passionately defended his decision to accept refugees into the state as he spoke before a group of GOP stalwarts and activists, some of whom openly questioned the move.

With some audience members at the 1st Tuesday luncheon seemingly confusing undocumented immigrants with refugees, Lee said President Donald Trump's order reshaping the U.S. refugee resettlement program dramatically cut the number of refugees coming into the country from 90,000 annually to 18,000.

"Congress has the responsibility to create an immigration policy that works for us," Lee said. "There's no way to answer - at the state [level] we have no say in immigration policy."

Unlike legal and illegal immigrants, refugees in the federal program are "politically oppressed or religiously oppressed" and "very different" from others, Lee said.