Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched the stories of numerous homes and businesses in my beautiful town that burned to the ground. The Great Gatlinburg Wildfire, as some are now calling it, has managed to destroy over 1,100 buildings, and forced over 14,000 people to evacuate for safety reasons. Many literally ran for their lives while this massive fire engulfed lifetimes of memories, homes, and land. At least 14 have been confirmed dead, and 191 have been injured. Hundreds have literally lost everything except the pajamas they barely escaped in.
Winds reaching 87 mph knocked over power lines, which in turn sparked numerous fires on their own. The entire city of Gatlinburg had to be evacuated, as the fire was spreading so quickly that it could not be reasonably contained. In the surrounding areas, flames were carried by the hurricane-strength winds and destroyed even more property and land. This has been the worst fire seen in Tennessee in over 100 years.
I’ve spent much of the past few weeks reaching out to those who lost everything. Families were left with only the cold truth that they had nowhere to go and nothing to fall back on. Many who rented their homes did not carry renter’s insurance, which means they will walk away with nothing to help rebuild. Fortunately, a great effort by local hero Dolly Parton and her My People Fund are filling in the gaps for thousands. I lost track of how many people collapsed into my arms, grasping for hope, and seeking a way forward in those first few nights. These men and women are without any earthly items, no permanent shelter, and unsure of what to do next. They are literally at the mercy of their neighbors and fellow Americans. Their plight is obvious and their need great.
As I do my small part to help these hurting neighbors, I can’t help but consider the effort put into resettling refugees from foreign nations like Syria, Turkey, and many other countries. Our federal government has pumped large amounts of money into bringing random people into our borders, setting them up with free housing and education, and increasing the amount of numbers they wish to invite inside our nation. These people are impossible to vet, and as we recently saw with the Somali/Pakistani Islamic knife-attacker at Ohio State University, we can’t really know who we are letting in to live among us. The federal government claims we must help these refugees with everything we’ve got. I say, let’s look at our own refugees first.
I am a former military intelligence agent, with deployments in Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan). I have done the vetting process, and let me tell you, it’s not realistic to know the character of the foreign refugees we’re admitting. Don’t believe the calming words from officials that say these people go through extensive background checks. A good background check doesn’t exist in those places like they do here. It’s all crossing of the fingers and hoping we make the right decisions. We do know, however, what our neighbors are like, because we babysit each other’s kids, go to church together, and check in on each other. So, while we pump huge sums of tax-payer money into programs that welcome Pakistani unknowns into our universities, we neglect the veteran who sleeps on the park bench because the VA is incompetent. We give half a glance at the hundreds of refugees from Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. We soothe our consciences by dolling out dollars to foreigners, while sneezing at our grocery workers, bank tellers, and trash collectors who fled the fires that have put them in the most vulnerable of positions. Will we give these displaced refugees free housing and education, just as we do to those from various nations around the world? I’ve never been an advocate for huge government giveaway programs, but for crying out loud, if we’re going to give it away, why not give it to our own people?
As a patriotic American, I sympathize with the need that true refugees have for safety and rebuilding. That’s why I stand here in the Great Smoky Mountains and shout to the officials in our federal government who are big on helping foreigners resettle: come help the refugees in Tennessee.