Senate votes to direct Tenn. AG to sue over refugee settlement

Signs saying "Welcome refugees" await Tennessee Senate before it considers controversial resolution urging AG lawsuit. (Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The state Senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution Monday afternoon directing Tennessee’s attorney general to mount a legal challenge to the federal refugee resettlement program, but opponents vow to maintain their message that the action is “sending the wrong message to refugees.”

The chamber voted 27-5 to pass the resolution despite Republican Gov. Bill Haslam raising “reservations” last week about the Legislature trying to instruct the attorney general to sue.

The governor told reporters said he doesn’t consider the refugees to be “stressing our system” in Tennessee.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, a main sponsor of the resolution, said he was unaware of the governor’s comments and that the General Assembly will hire its own lawyer if Attorney General Herbert Slatery declines to get involved.

On the floor, the Sen. Norris directed comments to the several dozen opponents in the gallery who carried signs “welcome refugees.”

Looking to the gallery, Norris said “we stand to uphold individual rights under these constitutions and I would think anyone would not want to come to Tennesse unless we were the kind of state that didn’t defend those rights.”

Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) told News 2 that she disagreed with the resolution’s assertion that refugees are costing Tennessee.

“The fiscal review committee found that refugees bring in $1.4 billion versus costing $750 million, so this is all smoke and mirrors in trying to shut the door on people fleeing persecution and violence,” said Sherman-Nikolaus, who is policy director for TIRRC.

House members are expected to take up the resolution in committee within the next few weeks.

*The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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