Thursday
Feb112016

2016 Anti-Refugee Legislation

In the wake of global tragedies, some legislators are attempting to scapegoat refugees and erode support for refugee resettlement. These efforts are the latest in a years long effort to curb changing demographics, stem Muslim migration, and make living in Tennessee more difficult for immigrants and refugees. To learn more about Tennessee's long history of anti-refugee and anti-Muslim policies see our latest report, Countering the Backlash: Strategies for Responding to Anti-Refugee and Xenophobic Activity from the New South.  

These attempts are misguided and misplaced. Refugees are fleeing violence and persecution, and they seek our protection. They are the most vetted travelers entering our country. 

The following bills and resolutions are being considered by the TN General Assembly this legislative session:

SJR0467(RAMSEY): LAWSUIT TO END REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT

Current status: The Senate voted 27-5 in favor of this resolution. It will now go to the House of Representatives for consideration but has not been assigned to committee. For more information on the Senate vote, visit here.  

While the Attorney General recently opined that the state is precluded from refusing to allow refugees to resettle within our borders, Lt. Governor Ramsey and others have introduced Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 467 to halt refugee resettlement by suing the federal government. This resolution instructs the Attorney General to sue the federal government over failture to consult and the use of state resource to provide services to refugees (e.g. Medicare). If the Attorney General chooses not to file a lawsuit, this resolution allows the General Assembly to hire outside counsel. 

We know that refugee resettlement is not a burden on our state. In fact, a 2013 report from the fiscal review committee found that refugees contributed nearly $1.4 billion in state revenue from 1990 to 2012, compared with only $753 million spent by the state on refugees and their descendants during the same time period. Refugees enrich and strengthen our communities, but by advancing this resolution, the Tennessee Senate is sending a strong message that refugees are not welcome in Tennessee. If this resolution passes, our state would join the ranks of Alabama and Texas who have already filed lawsuits in an attempt to end refugee resettlement in their states. For our policy brief on SJR0467, please visit here

SB1929(YAGER)/HB2415(LYNN): THE REFUGEE SURVEILLANCE BILL

Current Status: The bills have been assigned to their respective committees (Senate State and Local Government and House State Government Sub-Committee) but a date has not yet been set for a vote. 

This bill legislates racial profiling by requiring the Tennessee Office for Refugees to report on refugees based on their national origin or place of living in the last 5 years. This discriminatory bill expands government surveillance into the private lives of individuals fleeing persecution and violence, many of whom will become naturalized U.S. citizens, with no basis other than where they have lived. In particular, SB1929/HB2415 singles out people coming from countries considered by the U.S. State Department as state-sponsors of terrorism. At the moment this includes Iran, Sudan, and Syria. 

SB1733(GRESHAM)/HB1713(PODY): TARGETING REFUGEE FAMILIES AND CHILDREN BILL

Current Status: These bills have been assigned to their respective committees (Senate Judiciary Committee and the House State Government Sub-Committee) but a date has not yet been set for a vote.  

SB1733/HB1713 targets refugees families and children by denying state-funded services such as healthcare, food stamps, and other services for people with disabilities, children, and the elderly. While the overwhelming majority of refugees become self-sufficient by the end of six months, some may need public services in the short-term to successfully integrate in the long-term. Furthermore, a 2013 report from the fiscal review committee found that refugees contributed nearly $1.4 billion in state revenue from 1990 to 2012, compared with only $753 million spent by the state on refugees and their descendants during the same time period. 

SB0364(GREEN)/HB1195(RAGAN); SB1614(GREEN)/HB2150(RAGAN); AND SB0776(BEAVERS)/HB0725(PODY): TAKING OVER REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT

Current Status: SB1614/HB2150 has been assigned to its respective committees (Senate State and Local Government and House State Government Sub-Committee) but no date has yet been set for a vote. SB0364/HB1195 was introduced in the Spring 2015, but SB0364 was placed on the Senate State and Local Government Calendar for January 2016 and then removed. As of now, this bill is not on calendar in either the House or the Senate. SB0776/HB0725 was introduced in the Spring 2015, but has not been placed on the calendar this year. 

These bills seek to undermine the important work of resettlement agencies by attempting to retake the Tennessee Office for Refugees from Catholic Charities, who have effectively administered the program since 2008, and place the coordination of resettlement back into the hands of the state. SB0364/HB1195 and SB0776/HB0725 places the responsibility under the administration of the Department of Human Services and SB1614/HB2150 seeks to place it under the Department of Finance and Administration. All these bills would come at an increased cost and resources for the state. Furthemore, our government willingly relinquished control of its resettlement duties in 2008 because of its high cost and ambitions. The state adopted the Wilson-Fish model in which a non-profit organization coordinates refugee resettlement with improved outcomes and at a lower cost to the state. Wilson-Fish states have better rates of integration, early employment, and self-sufficiency. 

 

People of Faith: Join us in Welcoming Refugees! TIRRC and the Scaritt Bennett Center are organizing faith leaders to join our campaign to ensure that Tennessee welcomes refugees. Please encourage faith leaders in your network to sign on today.  

If you are not a faith leader but would like to get involved visit here for more information on how to get involved.