refugees

ACLU, refugee support groups seek to intervene in legislature-launched lawsuit

News release from American Civil Liberties Union

JACKSON, Tenn. — Groups serving Tennessee refugees are taking legal action against the state legislature’s efforts to block refugee resettlement.

State lawmakers who oppose refugee resettlement sued the federal government in March, contending that the federal refugee resettlement program improperly impinges on state sovereignty. The Tennessee attorney general previously declined to file the suit, concluding it would likely lose in court.

The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Tennessee represent the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, Bridge Refugee Services Inc., and the Nashville International Center for Empowerment, which are seeking to intervene in the case to defend refugee resettlement in Tennessee. The groups also filed legal arguments explaining why the General Assembly’s lawsuit should be thrown out.

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Fed lawyers: TN law doesn’t allow legislators to bring refugee lawsuit on behalf of the state

In a 48-page motion filed Thursday, U.S. Department of Justice attorneys asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit over refugee resettlement in Tennessee that was filed by a law firm advocating for states’ rights in response to a resolution passed by the legislature last year.

From The Tennessean’s report:

Among the federal government’s various arguments is that Tennessee law does not allow the General Assembly to bring the lawsuit on behalf of the state.

“Statutes enacted by General Assembly make clear that the authority to represent the state in litigation belongs exclusively to the Attorney General,” the motion states, while pointing out that the state’s attorney general declined to initiate the lawsuit.

At one point, the federal government also says the claim that Tennessee has been forced to spend state funds as part of refugee resettlement is “logic-defying.”

The state’s lawsuit came after lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a resolution in 2016 approving legal action and after Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery declined to initiate the case. Instead, the state’s case was brought forth by the Thomas More Law Center, a Michigan-based legal group.

TN lawsuit over refugees finally filed

(Note: A responsive press release from Tennessee ACLU is below this release.)

Thomas More Law Center news release via Senate Republican Caucus

ANN ARBOR, MI – The Thomas More Law Center, a national nonprofit public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, MI, today filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the State of Tennessee, the Tennessee General Assembly, and two State legislators, challenging the constitutionality of the federal refugee resettlement program as a violation of the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the principles of State sovereignty.
Defendants in the lawsuit include the U.S Departments of State and Health and Human Services, and their respective Secretaries.
Assisting the Thomas More Law Center, pro bono, is attorney B. Tyler Brooks with the law firm of Millberg Gordon Stewart PLLC located in Raleigh, North Carolina.
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Alexander, Corker see Trump’s new travel ban as an improvement

Some Republican senators who were critical of President Trump’s first executive order restricting travel from seven majority Muslim nations see his new version, covering six countries with revisions otherwise, as a substantive improvement, reports Politico. That includes Tennessee’s two U.S. senators.

Excerpt:

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who said Trump’s initial ban “needed more vetting,” on Monday said the revised version “appears to be a wiser approach to reviewing how we scrutinize those traveling to the United States from war-torn countries.”

Still, Alexander added, Monday’s order “should last only as long as it takes to complete the review” of immigrant vetting procedures that Trump has proposed.

…Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, who also criticized Trump’s January travel ban, offered some limited praise for the roll-out of the new plan.

“I am very encouraged by the inter-agency approach the administration has taken to develop and implement the revised executive order,” said Corker, adding that he was pleased that Iraq was removed from the countries subject to visa restrictions. The Tennessee Republican also said reviewing the nation’s screening and vetting procedures is “an appropriate step” and that he is hopeful these programs will then be reinstated.

Norris seeks meeting with Trump administration on refugees, lawsuit

State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris says he is putting on hold plans for filing a lawsuit against refugee resettlement in Tennessee while seeking a meeting with officials of President Trump’s administration, reports The Tennessean.

Norris, R-Collierville, said Thursday he has talked with U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Memphis attorney John Ryder about the refugee situation. Trump arranging a meeting with the Trump administration to discuss state lawmakers’ concerns over the federal refugee program. Trump recently issued a controversial executive order on refugees.

Ryder, who has served as general counsel for the Republican National Committee since 2013, has an established relationship with Reince Priebus, who is Trump’s chief of staff.

“(Blackburn) agrees that this is an opportunity and encouraged me to pursue it so she may be helping us to settle it as well,” Norris said.

…Trump’s order, which caused widespread confusion and generated protests immediately after it was announced on Jan. 27, called for a travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days while also suspending all refugee admissions for 120 days.

… Norris pointed to a section of Trump’s executive order which leads him to believe the new administration might be open to suggestions from states like Tennessee.

“To that end, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall examine existing law to determine the extent to which, consistent with applicable law, state and jurisdictions may have greater involvement in the process of determining the placement or resettlement of refugees in their jurisdictions and shall devise a proposal to lawfully promote such involvement,” the order states.

In the event that he is able to secure a meeting, Norris said he would go to Washington, D.C. with someone from the Thomas More Law Center, the Michigan-based legal group that the legislature hired to represent it in a potential lawsuit.

“It’s well-timed, it’s a good opportunity for us to air our grievances short of filing suit, although we are still prepared to proceed with the suit, once the 120-day period expires,” Norris said, adding that the lawsuit could go forward depending on what the Trump administration decides to do in the future.

Thousands attend TN protests onTrump immigration moves

There were protests aimed at President Donald Trump’s moves on refugees and immigration across Tennessee on Wednesday. Stephanie Teatro, a co-director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, which organized protests under the title “We All Belong,” tells The Tennessean that 3,500 persons attended the Nashville event, apparently the largest in the state.

Metro police estimated at one point that there were 1,500 demonstrators and said everything went well. The event included translation services in Somali, Arabic and Spanish, as well as voter registration tables.

About 2,000 people came to the Memphis vigil, about 1,500 in Chattanooga, over 1,000 in Knoxville, about 600 in Murfreesboro and 200 in Sewanee, Teatro said.

Here are some other reports on the protests appearing in Tennessee media:

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Alexander, Corker draw protesters, offer comment on Trump refugee order

Tennessee’s two U.S. senators, Republicans Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, both sent statements to media Sunday offering mild criticism of the way President Trumps executive order on refugees was handled.

Also Sunday, hundreds of protesters showed up at the Corker and Alexander offices to offer criticism in more strident terms with Mayor Megan Barry offering supportive comments, reports the Nashville Scene.

Alexander statement: “This vetting proposal itself needed more vetting. More scrutiny of those traveling from war-torn countries to the United States is wise. But this broad and confusing order seems to ban legal, permanent residents with ‘green cards,’ and might turn away Iraqis, for example, who were translators and helped save lives of Americans troops and who could be killed if they stay in Iraq. And while not explicitly a religious test, it comes close to one which is inconsistent with our American character.”

Corker statement: “We all share a desire to protect the American people, but this executive order has been poorly implemented, especially with respect to green card holders… The administration should immediately make appropriate revisions, and it is my hope that following a thorough review and implementation of security enhancements that many of these programs will be improved and reinstated.”

Start of the Scene report:

Hundreds (maybe even more than a thousand — News Channel 5 was told 1,500) gathered outside U.S. Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander’s West End offices this afternoon to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order on refugees and immigration. Between chants of, “No wall, no ban,” speakers shared their own stories about coming to Nashville and finding a welcoming home here. Some opened up about how the executive order affects their lives, including taking away their ability to visit family during school breaks.

Mayor Megan Barry also spoke and supported the protesters, urging Nashvillians to create a place that’s welcome to everyone. “America is stronger and better when we have each other’s back. And we have each other’s back in Nashville,” Barry said.

After the cheers, Barry was asked if Nashville would be a sanctuary city, a place that would protect undocumented immigrants. She couldn’t give the crowd the answer it was hoping to hear — which, as someone near me said, would be, “Hell yes!” — but she did say, “I would ask you to help me help the state legislature understand the power that we need here in Nashville. And I will tell you that a sanctuary city, you can use the language, but it’s about the action. The action is in the words and the words are the fact that in Nashville we are not going to make our police immigration officers. They’re not gonna do it.

Note: Politico says Corker and Alexander join a number of other Republican officeholders unhappy with the refugee moves, HERE. There was also a protest march in Chattanooga, reports the Times-Free Press. The Tennessean has a report on the Nashville doings HERE. (Both newspapers include the above Alexander and Corker comments.)

Haslam’s OK with refugee program as is; also with Trump suspending it

Gov. Bill Haslam reiterated his confidence in the country’s refugee resettlement program, but said he understands President Donald Trump’s need to review it.

Further from The Tennessean:

“I think any new president deserves a right to review the process and see if he is comfortable with what we’re doing, if he wants that to be the policy of his administration,” Haslam said. “I think it’s perfectly fine.”

Trump, according to multiple media reports, is expected to suspend the country’s refugee resettlement program, which brings in thousands of people from across the globe seeking asylum. A draft of a presidential executive order says the program would be suspended for 120 days.

The president has already signed immigration-related executive orders this week. On Wednesday he signed two orders that include plans to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and stop federal funding to so-called “sanctuary cities” that protect migrants in the country illegally.

There are no sanctuary cities in Tennessee. However, that didn’t stop Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, from filing state legislation Thursday (SB155) that would threaten state funding for any city that adopts sanctuary city policies. Similar legislation filed last year didn’t go anywhere.

… “For me, I looked at it and thought the people that are coming to us are primarily victims of either religious persecution or are living in a war-torn land where they’re trying to escape violence for their family, and that the vetting process we have is a good one,” Haslam said.

State legislative leaders disagree and are in the process of filing a lawsuit for noncompliance of the Refugee Act of 1980 based on the 10th Amendment.

Tennessee became home for 2,051 refugees in past year — 30% increase

Tennessee accepted 2,051 refugees in the last fiscal year, nearly a 30 percent increase from the number of refugees who came to Tennessee in the prior year, reports The Tennessean.

The increase comes with a pending lawsuit – authorized by the Legislature during the past session — challenging resettlement in Tennessee. A private law firm will represent Tennessee in the lawsuit after Attorney General Herbert Slatery declined to do so.

Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said he is committed to following that lawsuit through, even with (President-elect) Trump’s pledge to shut the doors to refugees.

Refugee advocates say they are equally committed to ensuring the nation’s refugee program remains open.

“In the weeks following the election, we have been overwhelmed by an unprecedented outpouring of support for immigrant and refugee communities,” said Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights..  “We will continue to expose and challenge elected officials who undermine the refugee resettlement program for political gain. We cannot let politicians exploit the fears and uncertainty Tennesseans face at the expense of our values. We deserve better and must demand greater leadership.”

…In the past year, the largest numbers of refugees arrived from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Syria and Somalia. More than half of the refugees were settled in Nashville with the remainder settling in Tennessee’s other main urban centers: Knoxville, Memphis and Chattanooga.

TN political talk roundup: Outsourcing, Rusty Crowe, refugees & marijuana

Arguing over outsourcing

Randy Stamps, executive director of the Tennessee State Employees Association, did an op-ed piece a couple of weeks ago in the News Sentinel under the headline, “Outsourcing state services doesn’t save taxpayers money.”

In a rebuttal op-ed Sunday, state Department of General Services Commissioner  Bob Oglesby declares that Stamps’ article “makes misleading and factually wrong claims and chooses to back up his false premise with several charges that are equally incorrect.”

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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