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Committee Asks AG To Sue Feds On Refugee Program

Posted at 5:28 PM, Feb 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-16 19:35:38-05

Dozens of refugees, who have resettled in Nashville, turned out to oppose legislation on Capitol Hill, which passed in a vote Tuesday.

The legislation calls for Tennessee to sue the federal government over the refugee resettlement program.

The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee overwhelmingly voted to sue the federal government  and ask a court to clearly define the state's rights when it comes to resettling refugees.

Refugees who were resettled in Nashville came to have their voices heard Tuesday in a Senate committee room at Legislative Plaza.

Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons told the committee, "To my knowledge we have not received any specific response to that letter from Governor Haslam to Secretary Kerry."

Gibbons updated lawmakers on the state's request for information on Syrian refugees coming to Tennessee.  

Collierville Republican Senator Mark Norris said, "When the commissioner of Safety and  Homeland Security comes before the Senate on two occasions and says he doesn't have the information the federal government is required to give us on the safety and security of those who are being relocated there's cause for concern."

Tennessee may sue the federal government over the refugee resettlement program and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris is leading the way.

The Senator argued the suit was necessary to force the federal government's hand in talking about refugees settling in Tennessee, and who must pay the bill.

Tennessee withdrew from the refugee resettlement program in 2007, but Norris says the state is still footing the bill through Medicaid, English Language Learning, and other programs.

Senator Norris said, "It's a federal program.  It should be paid for by the federal government."

The refugees in the audience watched as the resolution passed 9 to 1.

Only Nashville Republican Senator Steve Dickerson voted no saying the resolution sent the wrong message.
Stephanie Teatro with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition called it frivolous and a waste of taxpayer money.

Teatro said, "This legislature has been considering anti refugee policy for the last several years.  A conservative law firm has been shopping around this case.  This isn't about Tennesseeans.  It's not about keeping anyone safe.  It's really about creating an unwelcoming and hostile environment."

The full Senate could vote on this as early as next week. The resolution has not come up in the House.