Tennessee Lawmakers Face-Off Over Removal Of Syrian Refugees

Tennessee lawmakers are disagreeing over what should be done about Syrian refugees who have settled in Tennessee after fleeing to the U.S., seeking shelter from the conflict in their home country. The republicans of Tennessee argue that accepting Syrian refugees into the state will endanger it’s citizens, and they seek to close Tennessee’s borders to those looking to find shelter within. The democrats see this as cowardly, and believe that it is up to the federal government to decide whether or not Tennessee will take in Syrian refugees.

Glen Casada, House GOP Caucus Chairman, has made his feelings clear on what should be done about the Syrian refugees living in Tennessee. He feels that having the refugees in the state is a threat to its citizens. Casada suggests that the National Guard needs to prevent anymore Syrian refugees from moving in.

“We need to activate the Tennessee National Guard and stop them from coming in to the state by whatever means we can.”

Casada also believes that the refugees who are currently living in Tennesee should be gathered up and taken to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“I’m not worried about what a bureaucrat in D.C. or an unelected judge thinks…. We need to gather (Syrian refugees) up and politely take them back to the ICE center and say, ‘They’re not coming to Tennessee, they’re yours.’”

On Tuesday, The Tennesseean contacted Casada for a phone interview. The GOP leader was asked about his proposal, and whether or not the state had the legal means to carry it out. Casada responded, indicating that he believes that by sending Syrian refugees to Tennessee, the federal government is preventing state officials from protecting their citizens.

“Tennessee is a sovereign state. If the federal government is forsaking the obligation to protect our citizens, we need to act.”

David Smith, spokesman for the governor of Tennessee, said that there had been a conference call on Tuesday between White House Officials and a handful of governors, including Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. Smith did not indicate whether or not there was a resolution. According to The Tennesseean, over half of the country’s governors have requested that the federal government stop sending Syrian refugees to their states.

Also on Tuesday, Haslam wrote a letter to President Obama, asking that the federal government stop sending Syrian refugees to his state. He believed that the U.S. “must do everything we can to provide our citizens the safe environment to live, work and raise a family that so many across the world seek.” Haslam indicated that he felt that in order to do this, the federal government should allow the state to close its borders to Syrian refugees seeking shelter there.

Haslam acknowledged that the decision to send Syrian refugees to the state is ultimately up to the federal government, which Casada seemed to ignore when he came up with his proposal. However, Tennessee Democrats agreed that it was up to the federal government on whether or not the state would allow in Syrian refugees.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart responded to Casada’s suggestion of removing the refugees from the state of Tennessee. Stewart disagrees with Casada, and said that the proposal “is one of the most extraordinarily misguided statements that I have heard made by a public official.” Stewart stands by the federal government, and believes that the military and law enforcement will keep U.S. citizens safe.

“We need to approach this issue from a standpoint of strength and not fear, and we should have great confidence in our military forces and in our law enforcement agencies to keep our citizens safe. We don’t need to go off half-cocked and start interfering in the defense policy of our country.”

Republican Jeremy Durham believes that something should be done, however, about the Syrian refugees living in Tennessee. Durham expressed the view that having the refugees in the state is dangerous to its citizens.

“I believe we should take a long look at the entire refugee program and use any means necessary to stop refugees from entering Tennessee if they come from countries with ties to ISIS, Al-Qaeda and similar terrorist groups.”

Senate Democratic Caucus leader Jeff Yarbro said on Tuesday that he believed that preventing Syrian refugees from seeking safety within Tennessee’s borders is “un-American,” and will make things worse.

“We’re better than this. After Paris, it makes sense to fear the violence being exported by ISIS. But giving in to fear, closing the borders and abandoning our allies is un-American, and ultimately will make our situation even more dangerous.”

The Commercial Appeal reports that Heidi Weinberg, ACLU’s Tennessee executive director, shares the opinion of the democrats on Governor Haslam’s request for the federal government to stop sending in Syrian refugees. She believes that it’s a bad decision to begin refusing entrance to Syrian refugees. Weinberg condemned the governor’s response after the terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday, saying that closing the borders to Syrian refugees “blames refugees for the very terror they are fleeing.”

“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.”

With all of the violence surrounding the Syrian refugees, it’s obvious why these two parties disagree so vastly on the situation. Both the Republican and the Democratic parties make valid arguments for their stance on what should be done, but there must be a resolution.

What do you think should be done about Syrian refugees living in the U.S.? Do they bring a big enough threat to the American people that they should be barred from seeking shelter here? Or is refusing Syrian refugees unethical, and the wrong thing to do?

[Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images]