NASHVILLE — Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta) joined six other state lawmakers today in requesting a meeting with Governor Bill Haslam to discuss issues surrounding the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement’s plan for resettling Syrian refugees in Tennessee. Bailey, Representative Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains), Representative Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville), Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville), Senator Steve Southerland (R-Morristown) and Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield) expressed serious concerns in a letter to Haslam regarding the current process for refugee resettlement within Tennessee’s borders.
“After the attack in Paris, there is no assurance that refugees with the same intentions will not be arriving in our state,” Bailey said. “No official at the federal level involved with refugee resettlement can provide these assurances either. Testimony in Congressional hearings from intelligence officials has actually been to the contrary; they have said explicitly that they are unable to adequately vet Syrian refugees.”
Reports indicate that Tennessee will likely receive some of the 10,000 Syrian refugees for resettlement under President Obama’s admissions plan. Currently, Tennessee is receiving between 1500-1800 refugees each year.
“Following the murders in Chattanooga, we believe that elected officials have an affirmative duty to consider security issues from a more informed perspective and take those actions necessary to protect our citizens,” the letter said. “Governor Haslam, this letter serves as our request to speak with you directly about our concerns and discuss in greater detail how we will formally address the issues that the current resettlement of Syrian refugees raises for our State. Since resettlement activity is currently on-going, we believe time is of the essence in determining the best course for Tennessee in this matter.”
In 2008, Governor Phil Bredesen’s administration withdrew the State of Tennessee as the point of contact for the federal refugee resettlement program, instead opting to allow the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement to select a non-governmental organization to operate the program. Since that time, the number of refugees being brought to Tennessee increased by more than 50%.
“In addition to concerns for public safety, federal reports show that the costs of the federal program have been shifted to state governments even absent consent to accept the fiscal responsibility,” Bailey continued. “There are a lot of questions that we need to get to the bottom of as we seek to secure the safety of all Tennessee citizens.”