Policy Update: SCOTUS, Raids, & the 2016 Legislative Session

January 23, 2016

What will 2016 bring? Will refugee families--whether from Syria or Honduras--find safe refuge and welcome in Tennessee? Could undocumented students in the Class of 2016 be the first to graduate with access to in-state tuition? Will the Supreme Court finally deliver justice to the 50,000 Tennesseans who have been waiting for relief?

Immigrant families rung in the new year with the announcement that  ICE would be conducting raids across the country, specifically looking for Central American families to deport back to the violent communities they had fled. Our hotline began ringing off the hook. We received calls asking if it was safe for people to leave their homes. Mothers were asking if they should keep their children home from school that week. The unthinkable decision to conduct home raids in search of refugee families has cast a shadow of fear across Tennessee as ICE agents terrorize communities. We've launched an ambitious campaign to equip our members across the state with tools to know their rights and defend their communities and will work with our partners across the country to demand an end to the raids.

This week, the Supreme Court announced that it would take up the case of Texas v. United States--the lawsuit against the President's 2014 executive actions that was brought by 26 states, including Tennessee. Finally, immigrant families will have their day in court! If the court rules in our favor, 50,000 Tennesseans will have the opportunity to apply for deportation relief and a work permit. The Court is expected to hear oral arguments in April and issue their decision on the case in June.

And last week, the Tennessee General Assembly reconvened for the 2016 legislative session. This Thursday was the deadline for legislators to file their bills for the year and we're still poring over all of the pieces of legislation that have been filed.  Spoiler alert: some politicians have bet that targeting refugees, Muslims, immigrant workers and students will help get them re-elected this summer. Keep your eyes out for next week's policy update where we'll give a full report on of what's at stake for immigrant families in the 2016 session, including the opportunity to pass the tuition equality bill that failed by just one vote last year.

We're looking forward to a powerful 2016 where we'll work together to stop deportations and keep families together--with a victory at the Supreme Court and an end to the raids--and to build a Tennessee where all people are free to live, learn, work, and worship.  


Response to Hearing on Refugee Resettlement


Wednesday, December 9th, 2015
Contact: Eben Cathey 615.775.1069


In response to today's joint legislative hearing on refugee resettlement, Stephanie Teatro, Co-Executive Director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) issued the following statement: 

"After today’s hearing, the question is not whether the screening process for refugees is rigorous or thorough, but whether legislators will continue to exploit the fears of their constituents by casting doubt and suspicion on refugees who themselves are fleeing terror.

As we gear up for the 2016 legislative session, members of the General Assembly will have to decide whether or not they’ll try to score political points by aligning themselves with Donald Trump, Lieutenant Governor Ramsey, and the handful of legislators who have been pushing anti-refugee legislation for years. Or, if they’ll align themselves with the majority of Tennesseans who believe the resettlement program is a reflection of our nation’s highest values and stand ready to welcome refugees.

We wish that committee members could have heard directly from some of the many former refugees in the room, who could have shared their first-hand experience of how rigorous the screening process is, how resettlement can save lies, and how grateful they’ve been for a second chance in Tennessee. This was a missed opportunity to strengthen legislators understanding and appreciation for the program. We were disappointed that Chairman Yager dismissed a request from a committee member to hear about some of the actual families and individuals implicated by the program. 

We hope that members of the legislature remember that most former refugees are now citizens and eligible to vote in 2016. They’re paying attention to this troubling rhetoric and will remember when they go to the polls next year." 



PRESS RELEASE: Organizations Statewide Urge Governor to Rescind Request to Suspend Refugee Resettlement

November 24, 2015


Lindsay Kee, ACLU-TN,, 615-320-7142
Eben Cathey, TIRRC,, 615-775-1069


Organizations Statewide Urge Governor to Rescind Request to Suspend Refugee Resettlement

NASHVILLE – The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, and over a hundred and twenty-five other civic organizations, faith institutions and businesses from across the state sent Governor Bill Haslam a letter today urging him to rescind his request to suspend the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Tennessee.

"We call on Governor Haslam and other Tennessee leaders to do what is right, not what is easy. Linking the horrific tragedy in Paris to refugee resettlement is a fear-driven reaction that does not make us any safer,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director.  “Especially in times like these, it is crucial to remember that fairness and equal treatment are at the heart of the values our constitution protects. Using fear and misplaced blame to craft public policy creates grave challenges to our freedoms." 

In addition to Haslam, Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell have called for a moratorium on all refugees entering the United States.  Representative Glen Casada has called for Syrian refugees in Tennessee to be “gather[ed] up” and sent to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“In times of tragedy and fear, our values as a nation and state are tested,” said Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights (TIRRC). “Since the governor asked the federal government to suspend Syrian resettlement, the conversation in Tennessee has taken a dangerous turn. It is clear that Tennesseans demand moral clarity and courageous leadership in this moment and we urge Governor Haslam to lead and uphold our values." 

The letter states, in part, “…we will not allow fear to override our better instincts. We know that refugee resettlement will not make our communities any less safe. We know that refugees must wait months and often years to pass the rigorous screening process and are the most scrutinized of any migrants to the United States.  We believe it is morally reprehensible to turn our backs on Syrian refugees fleeing terror and violence.”

The letter is being sent on the heels of rallies in Nashville and Johnson City attended by hundreds of people demonstrating their support for refugees.  In addition, over 1600 people have signed a petition urging Tennessee lawmakers to welcome refugees.

In addition to ACLU-TN and TIRRC, organizations that have signed the letter include the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, World Relief, the Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship, and the YWCA of Nashville and Middle Tennessee.

A copy of the letter to Governor Haslam can be found here.




How Can I Stand With Refugees in Tennessee?

The situation in Tennessee is changing rapidly. This list of tools and resources will be updated regularly. If you would like to see tools or resources added, please email

Elected officials at the state and national level are playing off of the fear and worst instincts of Tennesseans and are calling for a moratorium on all refugee resettlement, to specifically bar Syrian refugees, and to institutionalize suspicion and discrimination on all migrants who enter the United States from predominately Muslim countries. For details of the legislation being proposed this spring visit here

In the wake of recent tragedies and in the context of the largest displacement of people since World War II, we are called to act with compassion and leadership, not fear and misplaced blame. We know that refugee resettlement will not make our communities less safe, but that they will be enriched and strengthened.

How to Stand With Refugees & Make Tennessee a More Welcoming State

Sign Your Name! 

  • Sign and share our petition to all elected officials
  • If you are a faith leader, please join the coalition being formed by TIRRC and the Scaritt Bennett Center to ensure that Tennessee welcomes refugees.   

Attend an Event or Solidarity Rally

  • Tuesday February 16th the Senate Finance Committee will be voting on a resolution seeking to end refugee resettlement. Please join us at the state capitol. For details on the event visit here. 
  • Organize a rally, vigil, or event in your city!
    • Rallies and vigils have been held in the following cities:

                             Nashville: Monday November 23rd

                             Johnson City: Monday November 23rd

                             Jonesborough: Sunday December 20th

                             Knoxville: Monday December 21st

Contact Your Elected Officials

  • Every day our elected officials are receiving messages from constituents who want to block refugees from settling in our state. Visit our action alert to send a message to all relevant elected officials and urge them to oppose any anti-refugee legislation.  


 Support Refugee Resettlement Agencies



Anti-Refugee Rhetoric Takes Dangerous Turn in Tennessee

Anti-Refugee Rhetoric Takes Dangerous Turn in Tennessee
TIRRC Calls Upon Governor and Legislators to Repudiate Calls to "Round Up" Syrian Refugees


Nashville – On Tuesday, Representative Glen Casada, the House Republican Caucus Chairman, told the Tennessean that he believes that the National Guard should be called to “round up” any Syrian refugees who have recently settled in the state and to prevent additional Syrian refugees from entering Tennessee, “by whatever means we can.”

These comments come on the heels of several state and federal elected officials, including the Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, and Governor Bill Haslam asking the federal government to suspend refugee resettlement from Syria, calling for a moratorium on all refugee resettlement, and institutionalizing discrimination into our immigration system by demanding greater scrutiny of all migrants from predominately Muslim countries.

In response to Representative Casada’s statements, Stephanie Teatro, Co-Executive Director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition issued the following statement:

“Almost immediately after Tennesseans heard the news of the tragedies in Paris, Baghdad, and Beirut, opportunistic politicians and fear-mongering pundits began engaging in a xenophobic race to the bottom. By calling for a moratorium on the resettlement of Syrian refugees, these legislators have preyed upon the heightened fears of this moment, suggesting that the only path forward is to blame the victims for the very terror they are fleeing.

Representative Casada has now taken this dangerous rhetoric to a new low. These comments harken back to some of the darkest periods of our nation’s history when we let fear and xenophobia override our principles and commitment to basic American freedoms.

Representative Casada’s comments must also serve as a mirror for all of the legislators who recently called to suspend Syrian refugee resettlement, creating a climate of fear that provides cover to extreme political ideologies. Representative Casada’s disturbing proposals are the consequence of our leaders casting suspicion over an entire group of people.

We urge Governor Haslam and all legislators of good conscience to immediately repudiate Representative Casada’s statements and commit to upholding our American values and the part of our history we can truly be proud of, serving as a beacon of hope for those seeking safe refuge.”

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