NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Governor Bill Haslam said Monday he is asking the federal government to suspend the placement of Syrian refugees in Tennessee.
He asked the move be made “until states can become more of a partner of in the vetting process.”
“As we mourn the loss of innocent life from Friday’s horrific and cowardly attacks in Paris, these terrible events have once again shown us that the threat of Islamic terrorism knows no boundaries and recognizes no borders,” Haslam wrote. “We as a state must do everything we can to provide Tennesseans the safe environment to live, work and raise a family that so many across the world seek.”
Haslam’s words come the same day several Tennessee lawmakers say their constituents are urging them to do something about continued “Syrian refugee immigration” in Tennessee in the face of last Friday’s attacks on Paris, France.
And those lawmakers are doing something with a flurry of letters, statements, and recommendations.
Much of the concern centers on reports that at least one suspect involved in the French attacks had a Syrian passport which was found on his body.
In the last year, 1,908 Syrians relocated to the United States. According to the Refugee Processing Center, 35 settled in Tennessee and 92 in Kentucky from Nov. 2014 to Nov. 2015. Click here to view the reports.
Senate Speaker Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, both Republicans, released a drafted letter to News 2 in which they seek an immediate suspension on refugees entering the United States, specifically Tennessee. Click here to read the full document.
And earlier on Monday, a letter created by Maury County Rep. Sheila Butt (R) asked her colleagues to request the governor suspend efforts to settle any Syrian Refugees until the U.S. Department of Homeland Security completes a full review of security clearances and procedures. Click here to read her letter.
Rep. Jeremy Durham of Williamson County went a step further, saying, “We must refuse new Syrian refugees from entering our state and we cannot wait around to act. My hope is that the Governor will agree but we must call a special session if he doesn’t.
Rep. Diane Black (R) also posted a lengthy statement on her Facebook page. In it, she said that although she believes it is critical the United States “make efforts to aid those who are persecuted in the Middle East,” the security of the American people must be the country’s first priority.
Rep. Black has cosponsored Congressman Brian Babin’s (R-TX) Resettlement Accountability National Security Act, which places an immediate moratorium on all refugee resettlement programs until the Government Accountability Office completes a thorough study outlining the true costs of these programs to federal, state and local governments.
Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn also weighed in Monday, saying “the security of American citizens must be our top priority.”
“We now have reports that one, and possibly more, of the Paris attackers posed as Syrian refugees before entering Europe. As a result, we must immediately suspend similar resettlement efforts in the U.S. I have repeatedly warned that it is impossible to vet Syrian refugees to determine if they have ties to ISIS. Any efforts to continue moving forward with the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S. would be dangerously irresponsible,” Blackburn explained.
One counter view comes from Tim Patterson, executive director of World Relief Nashville.
Patterson said his group has settled “about a third” of the 35 refugees from Syria over the past year in Tennessee. His told New 2, in full:
I can confirm that we have resettled only 22 Syrian refugees in Nashville over the past year. Only about 2,000 Syrians have been resettled by all agencies throughout the U.S. The reason they are coming in such low numbers is that the application and vetting process for refugees from Syria, (and for all refugees from around the world), is very extensive and can take several years. If someone with evil intent wanted to come to the U.S., coming as a refugee would not be the way to do it. World Relief has resettled well over 200,000 refugees nation-wide (from many different countries) since 1978. None have been terrorists. The FBI, State Department, national intelligence agencies, and Department of Homeland Security are all involved in a process that takes at least two years with significant clearance hurdles.”
Democrat State Rep. Jim Cooper said in a statement to News 2 that “terrorists want us to panic and overreact. We must resist that temptation.”
His statement reads, in full: “Terrorists want us to panic and overreact. We must resist that temptation. The first duty of government is to keep Americans safe, and America has been largely safe since 9/11. To keep us safe, all visitors and immigrants to our country are, and should be, thoroughly screened in advance, before they come here, in order to make sure, extra sure, that they are not a threat. But it would be a mistake to exclude all foreigners, as some politicians are suggesting. What we should do is exclude all terrorists, and all would-be terrorists.”
Of the 35 Syrian refugees relocated to Tennessee, 22 are in Nashville.
When asked about the governor’s request, Megan Barry said, “I believe that when Nashville can welcome new Americans that we should try the best that we can to do that and give them the support they need.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee said Monday they are “very disappointed” with Haslam’s request.
“We mourn and condemn the horrific attacks in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad. However, the attempt by Governor Haslam and other lawmakers to draw a link between such tragedies and the admission and resettlement of Syrian refugees in Tennessee is a reflexive overreaction,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee.
Weinburg continued, “The U.S. already has an extremely rigorous and multi-layered security screening program in place for refugees seeking to resettle here. Attempting to block refugee resettlement in Tennessee blames refugees for the very terror they are fleeing, and erodes our own civil liberties.”