PRESS STATEMENT Tuesday, February 16, 2016Contact: Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus | Lisa@tnimmigrant.org
Tennessee Takes One Step Closer to Turning Our Backs on Refugees
NASHVILLE - Today, the Senate Finance Committee voted to pass SJR0467 by a vote of 9-1. The resolution's passage did not come as a surprise, as seven of the eleven committee members had previously signed on as co-sponsors. The resolution would direct the Attorney General to sue the federal government to end refugee resettlement and reserves the right of the General Assembly to hire outside counsel if the Attorney General refuses to sue. The resolution now moves towards a vote on the Senate floor.
In response to the Senate Finance Committee vote, Stephanie Teatro, Co-Executive Director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC), issued the following statement:
"Today, Senators voted to shut the door on refugee families in an exercise of political theater and election year politics at its worst. The Senate Finance Committee just passed the most extreme piece of anti-refugee legislation in the country that asks Tennessee taxpayers to foot the bill for frivolous litigation that won't hold up in court.
This resolution is nothing but smoke and mirrors. The lawsuit is not in response to recent global tragedies or changes in our refugee resettlement program--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.
This isn't the first time the legislature has sought to end or derail refugee resettlement by claiming it is a drain on taxpayer resources or lacks a proper vetting process. In a similar debate three years ago, the legislature commissioned a report from the state's fiscal review committee to track the "cost" of refugee resettlement in Tennessee, where they learned that refugee families contributed $1.4 billion in revenue for the state between 1990 and 2012, compared to requiring $753 million in state support. Coming to the United States as a refugee requires passing through the most highly scrutinized and lengthy security process available. Senators aren't actually concerned about cost or security - this is about sending an unwelcoming message to refugee families.
This resolution is unprecedented and gives Tennessee the unfortunate distinction of being the most unwelcoming state in the country. A good faith effort to understand or improve the refugee resettlement process does not require turning our backs on people who flee violence and persecution. At a time when Tennessee is setting up offices across the world promoting international investment, this resolution is an embarrassment that threatens our global reputation."
The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition has documented the long history of anti-refugee policy in Tennessee in a recent report, Countering the : Strategies for Responding to Anti-Refugee and Xenophobic Activity from the New South.
VOTE COUNT:Senator Randy McNally: yesSenator Bo Watson: yesSenator Doug Overbey: yesSenator Steve Dickerson: noSenator Ferrell Haile: yesSenator Thelma Harper: passSenator Joey Hensley: yesSenator Bill Ketron: yesSenator Mark Norris: yesSenator John Stevens: yesSenator Reginald Tate: yes