PRESS STATEMENT Monday, April 18, 2016Contact: Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus | Lisa@tnimmigrant.org
Passing SJR0467 puts Tennessee on the wrong side of history
NASHVILLE - This afternoon the House of Representatives voted to pass SJR0467 by a vote of 69 to 25, directing the Attorney General to sue the federal government over the refugee resettlement program. If the Attorney General chooses not to sue, SJR0467 allows the General Assembly to hire outside counsel to pursue the litigation. The Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center, a self-proclaimed conservative law firm whose mission is to protect and defend "American Judeo-Christian heritage," had shopped around this lawsuit for months and embarrassingly found a partner in the Tennessee legislature. In February, the Senate passed the resolution by a 27 to 5 vote.
Despite efforts by the resolution's sponsors to characterize SJR0467 as a mere constitutional exercise not intended to be unwelcoming, the true intentions of the resolution - to limit or stop Muslim refugee resettlement - are clear. During discussion on the bill, representatives have invoked the tragic events in Brussels and Paris as justification for this resolution, and the Senate sponsor has for weeks been eroding support for refugee resettlement by linking refugees to terrorism in his petition to the Attorney General.
The following is a quote from Stephanie Teatro, Co-Executive Director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition:
"We are disappointed but not surprised by the House of Representatives' vote today. This passage of this resolution, and the litigation that will follow, puts Tennessee on the wrong side of history. Our legislators and the citizens of Tennessee will undoubtedly look back at this moment with great shame.
Passing this resolution and signing taxpayers up for costly and embarrassing litigation makes Tennessee among the most unwelcoming and hostile states for refugee families. This dangerous resolution also provides political cover to those who will seek to advance more extreme policies or act out their xenophobic biases.
In the wake of global tragedies, we need legislators to demonstrate real leadership and moral courage. Despite serious concerns about the legal and procedural questions around this resolution, the legislature clearly finds it more politically expedient to scapegoat people fleeing persecution than to do the hard work of public policy, which requires being honest with constituents and making real investments in public safety and refugee integration. Instead of leadership and courage, opportunistic legislators have instead engaged in the worst kind of political theater, playing off the fears of Tennesseans to score political points this election season.
This resolution does nothing to address the security concerns of some Tennesseans in the wake of global tragedies. It will have no impact on the already lengthy and rigorous vetting process refugees undergo. Turning our backs on people fleeing persecution and violence does nothing to make us safer. Instead, we betray our values and damage our global reputation as a welcoming place for all." National activists have been pushing some of the most extreme anti-refugee policy in Tennessee for years. And more recently, anti-refugee organizations have been shopping around this very lawsuit for months and have embarrassingly found a potential partner in Tennessee. The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition has documented the long history of anti-refugee policy in Tennessee in a recent report, Countering the Backlash: Strategies for Responding to Anti-Refugee and Xenophobic Activity from the New South. ###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.