The Southern Roots of Anti-Refugee Backlash
New report shows Tennessee has been a testing ground for anti-refugee organizing since 2011, offers strategies to counter backlash
NASHVILLE - As communities across the country organize in response to cascading anti-refugee rhetoric and policies, the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) has issued a new report, Countering the Backlash: Strategies for Responding to Anti-Refugee and Xenophobic Activity from the New South, with support from the J.M. Kaplan Fund.
Long before the attacks in Paris, national anti-refugee organizations had been working to erode support for refugee resettlement. While their views and policy proposals have historically been far outside of the national mainstream, they found fertile ground in Tennessee, and are now finding favor more broadly. Countering the Backlash sheds light on the long history of anti-refugee organizing, clearly demonstrating that current policy proposals to limit or end refugee resettlement are not innovative responses to new threats or a tailored response to a post-Paris world but rather the latest in a long campaign to slow changing demographics and limit Muslim migration.
Over the past several years, activist groups supporting the anti-refugee backlash identified the combustible conditions in Tennessee, fueled by anxiety in response to rapid demographic shifts, as an opportunity to advance their agenda. Countering the Backlash makes clear that the current backlash against the refugee resettlement program has been brewing for years, fueled by state-based anti-immigrant legislation, like Arizona's Senate Bill 1070 and its copycats across the country, growing Islamophobia, and a more generalized scapegoating of the foreign-born in times of economic insecurity. Similarly, these groups are now exploiting the fear and uncertainty communities face in the wake of terrorism to advance the same agenda across the country.
Despite having a small, albeit quickly growing, foreign-born population and little progressive infrastructure, immigrant communities and advocates in Tennessee succeeded in preventing most regressive legislation from becoming law and found ways to turn the tide. What happened in Tennessee is a story of hope and resiliency, demonstrating that, even in the most hostile environment communities can respond to legislative and rhetorical threats as an opportunity to organize, build power, and develop the capacity to shift the political climate. Countering the Backlash offers lessons learned and recommendations for organizations across the country that are working to defend refugee resettlement, combat Islamophobia, and build more welcoming communities.
To download a PDF of the report, click here.