TIRRC Response to Attorney General Slatery's Rejection of Anti-Refugee Lawsuit

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Today, Attorney General Slatery announced that he would not file a lawsuit on behalf of the state of Tennessee to challenge the refugee resettlement program, as directed by SJR467, which passed the Tennessee General Assembly in April 2016.

While the attorney general made it clear that a lawsuit would not be in the best interest of Tennesseans and would be unlikely to succeed, he delegated his authority to the General Assembly to hire outside counsel on its behalf.  The Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), an activist and anti-Muslim law firm, has sought a state to act as plaintiff in the very lawsuit outlined in SJR467, and may find one in the Tennessee General Assembly. TMLC states that their mission is to “Preserve America’s Judeo-Christian heritage.”

The following is a statement from Stephanie Teatro, Co-Executive Director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition:

“We applaud Attorney General Slatery’s decision not to sue the federal government over refugee resettlement. We agree with his assessment that the lawsuit is not grounded in any firm legal basis and is bound to fail in court. 

We urge the speakers of the house and senate to cut their losses and shelve this baseless litigation. The attorney general's statement, as well as the provision of SJR467 that requires outside counsel to represent the General Assembly pro bono, now guarantee that the only law firm that might take this case would be one driven more by ideology than sound legal reasoning. 

If the legislature proceeds with SJR467, we will not only be turning our backs on refugee families fleeing violence and persecution but also the advice of our state's highest ranking legal officer. 

If Senator Norris and other proponents of this lawsuit ignore the reasoned analysis of the attorney general in favor of political theater, they will further cement our reputation as the most unwelcoming place in the country. Any further consideration of this lawsuit will be an utter embarrassment to our state." 



PRESS STATEMENT: Justice Delayed: SCOTUS Rules 4-4 on President Obama's Executive Actions

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016
Contact: Eben Cathey 615.775.1069


Justice Delayed: SCOTUS Rules 4-4 on President Obama's Executive Actions on Immigration

Undocumented Tennesseans Continue to Wait, Fight for Relief


Nashville - This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 4-4 in the case of Texas vs. United States, the lawsuit brought by Texas, Tennessee, and 24 other states against President Obama’s 2014 executive actions on immigration. As a result of the court’s deadlock, two programs that would have allowed more than 4 million Americans and an estimated 38,000 Tennesseans to apply for a deferral from deportation and employment authorization remain blocked.

The split decision by the Supreme Court will not set any precedent, but allows the decisions of lower courts to stand. Legal experts agree that the president’s actions are constitutional and well-established: every U.S. president since Eisenhower has exercised similar executive authority on immigration. The lawsuit against the programs was never grounded in law or history, but was a politically-motivated attack on immigrant families.

Today, our system has failed immigrant families. In 2013, Congress failed immigrant communities when the House of Representatives failed to vote on a bi-partisan immigration bill that passed the Senate 68-32. Now, the judicial system has again failed immigrant communities by reaching an impasse on a highly politicized court case that controls the future of millions of people and their families. We are ashamed that our state and our Attorney General have played a role in delaying justice for immigrant community members across the country.

The following is a quote from Stephanie Teatro, Co-Executive Director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition:

"We are outraged by the court's decision that effectively denies justice and opportunity to 38,000 Tennessee families. This is a devastating loss, not only for affected families but for our entire state. Attorney General Slatery put politics over people when he joined this politically motivated lawsuit that was never in the best interest of our state. We will continue to fight in our local communities, at the state legislature, and across the country for the rights of families to stay together. Despite today's loss, immigrant families are here to stay."


TIRRC is a statewide, immigrant and refugee-led collaboration whose mission is to empower immigrants and refugees throughout Tennessee to develop a unified voice, defend their rights, and create an atmosphere in which they are recognized as positive contributors to the state. Since its founding in 2001, TIRRC has worked to develop immigrant leadership, build the capacity of its immigrant-led member organizations, help immigrant community members understand and engage in the civic process, and educate the public about policies that would better promote integration of new immigrants and facilitate their full participation in US society. In just a few years TIRRC has grown from a grassroots network of community leaders into one of the most diverse and effective coalitions of its kind, a model for emerging immigrant rights organizations in the Southeast and throughout the United States.


Statement in Response to the Tragedy in Orlando

14 June 2016

Our hearts are broken and spirits shaken by the devastating mass shooting in Orlando Sunday morning. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the victims, to those still fighting for their lives in hospitals, and to the entire LGBTQI community. We stand in solidarity during this period of grief and of healing.

This shooting is a painful reminder of the persistent threat of violence that members of the LGBTQI community live with each day. And that the shooting occurred during Latino Night is a reminder of the compounding oppression and threat of violence facing Latinxs and people of color. Here in Tennessee and across the country, LGBTQI people are targets of the highest rates of hate violence, especially trans women of color.

This climate of bigotry and fear towards LGBTQI communities has been fueled by rhetoric in the presidential election and in state legislatures across the country. Here in Tennessee, lawmakers spent the better part of the 2016 legislative session debating policies that marginalized and dehumanized LGBTQI communities. Everyone, especially elected officials, must understand the consequences of their words and be held accountable for the climate they create.

The same is true for the dangerous anti-refugee, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim policies and rhetoric that have dominated this year, threatening our members’ sense of safety. This mainstreaming of bigoted rhetoric and the institutionalizing of discrimination can incite xenophobic and homophobic acts of violence. Many are already trying to scapegoat Muslim communities and use this tragedy to fuel their ongoing campaigns to limit immigration and refugee resettlement and to curtail religious freedom

We must combat with vigilance these efforts to be divided, and not respond to hate with hate. There will continue to be attempts to pit communities against one another. We must do the hard work of confronting and dismantling systems of oppression and division, and the cultures of homophobia, transphobia, racism and Islamophobia in our society. We cannot let where we are from, who we love, or how we worship divide us.

In the wake of the tragedy in Orlando, throughout the month of Ramadan and of Pride, and for the months to come, we will celebrate the dignity and beauty in our communities and recommit ourselves to the critical work of dismantling the deep roots of hatred and bigotry. Let us all continue to build a Tennessee and a country where the human rights and dignity of all people are respected, diversity is welcomed and valued, and people are free from discrimination and oppression.



We are a coalition of immigrants, refugees, and allies working to lift up fundamental American freedoms and human rights and build a strong, welcoming, and inclusive Tennessee. We envision a society in which immigrants are powerfully engaged as leaders in the civic, political, and cultural life of the community, the human rights and dignity of all people are respected and diversity is welcomed and valued, people are free from discrimination and oppression, and immigrants are joined in a broader movement for religious freedom and social, racial, and economic justice.



PRESS STATEMENT: Governor Haslam Allows Extreme, Anti-Refugee Lawsuit to Proceed Without Veto

Governor Haslam Allows Anti-Refugee Resolution to Proceed Without Signature

NASHVILLE - This morning, Governor Haslam allowed SJR467, a resolution directing Attorney General Slatery to sue the federal government in an effort to end refugee resettlement in Tennessee, to proceed without his signature. Citing similar constitutional questions that TIRRC raised throughout the legislative debate, Governor Haslam has deferred to the attorney general on whether or not to sue the federal government and to determine whether the legislature may hire outside counsel.  Without a formal veto, the resolution is enacted and the lawsuit could potentially proceed, even without the governor’s signature.

If Attorney General Slatery determines the legislature has the authority to initiate a lawsuit and hire outside counsel, the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center, an extremist and anti-Muslim law firm, has been seeking a plaintiff for this case and has already offered to represent the Tennessee General Assembly.

The following is a statement from Stephanie Teatro, Co-Executive Director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition:

 “While we are disappointed in Governor Haslam’s decision not to veto the legislature's efforts to sue over refugee resettlement, we agree with his assessment that the resolution itself is constitutionally suspect and that the legislature has overstepped its authority. We also agree that attempting to dismantle the refugee resettlement program will not make our communities any safer. Although we appreciate these comments, by failing to veto this dangerous and misguided resolution the governor has helped secure Tennessee's reputation as the most unwelcoming state in the country. 

While the lawsuit the resolution initiates is bound to fail in the courts, the rhetoric that fueled its passage will continue to create a climate of hostility and fear for refugee families. By allowing the resolution to proceed and not addressing it's hateful underpinnings, the governor is enabling dangerous anti-refugee and anti-Muslim sentiment to persist. The passage of this resolution also provides political cover to those who seek to advance even more extreme policies or those who might act on their fear and bigotry.

A veto by the governor would have gone a long way in demonstrating to refugee families in Tennessee that they are welcome here and that their contributions are valued. A veto would have also sent a strong statement to those who seek to scapegoat refugees rather than do the hard work of public policy and governing in these times of global crises and uncertainty.  As the resolution and lawsuit proceeds, we hope that Governor Haslam takes seriously his responsibility to repair the hostile climate that has been created and to protect the many refugee families who already call Tennessee home.

The refugee resettlement program represents the highest ideals and aspirations of our nation. It is unconscionable that in the midst of the world’s largest displacement of people since World War II, our state would shirk its responsibility and betray our values in this way. In the midst of a global refugee crisis, our legislature has chosen to invest our resources in a lengthy and costly lawsuit rather than in saving and rebuilding lives. We will undoubtedly look back at this resolution with great shame.

In the coming months, as the global refugee crisis persists, we urge Governor Haslam to act with greater moral authority and courageous leadership. We must counter fear and discrimination towards people fleeing persecution and provide greater investment in the life-saving work of refugee resettlement programs."




Tennessee is Ready for Relief! Community Navigators Trained Throughout the State

As we await a decision from the Supreme Court on President Obama’s historic actions on immigration, immigrant communities are getting ready to implement the victory. If the Supreme Court rules in our favor, an estimated 38,000 undocumented immigrants in Tennessee will be able to apply for deportation relief. To make this opportunity a reality for all DACA/DAPA eligible families, we’re building a corps of trained volunteers ready to educate their community, identify potentially eligible applicants, and help individuals gather the many documents that will be needed to establish their eligibility.

Learning from the successful roll out of the Affordable Care Act and the community based, “navigator” model, the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA) has developed an intensive training program to equip immigrant community leaders with the skills and tools to be “community navigators” and reduce barriers to applying for DACA and DAPA. This spring we’ve held three, two-day Community Navigators trainings for more than 80 participants in Nashville, Memphis, and Chattanooga.

Our Community Navigators training is designed to give participants an overview of immigration laws and policies while training them on best practices for information sharing, pre-screening for DACA+/DAPA programs, and general outreach and service delivery strategies. Before jumping into the content of the training, participants begin by share one word that comes to mind when they hear “U.S. Immigration System.” Not surprisingly, the responses were ‘broken’, ‘fear’, ‘unjust’, and ‘inhumane’.

By connecting with participant’s lived experiences, the Community Navigators Training combines popular education and skills training to prepare leaders with specialized information on administrative relief so that they can provide effective and accurate information to their communities. Acting as links between their communities, legal service organizations, and government representatives, community navigators are trained to recommend authorized legal services, assist with pre-screening for eligibility, and share accurate information on DACA+/DAPA. Having a trained network of community leaders ready to assist in the distribution of information and getting their friends and families ready to apply will be critical to the success of our implementation work. Iris, who participated in the Memphis training, says that she “looks forward to the opportunities that we’ll have over the coming months to share all that we’ve learned, as well as equip our community to continue to fight for more systemic changes to halt mass deportations.”