PRESS STATEMENTFriday, May 20, 2016Contact: Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus | Lisa@tnimmigrant.org
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."
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.