The division between those who would and would not admit Syrian refugees to Tennessee is more stark than the split between girls who would and wouldn’t before marriage: Either she wants to remain a virgin or she doesn’t. Either Tennesseans would welcome refugees with open arms or slam the door shut tight. There is no middle ground.
Hundreds were marching in Nashville to demonstrate their support for opening Tennessee’s borders to as many refugees as the Obama administration wants to truck in from Syria, while one Republican promised to introduce a proposal to find out how much it would cost Tennessee to resettle the refugees, and another raised the idea of rounding up all the refugees and “inviting them nicely” to get out and stay out of the state.
Gov. Bill Haslam (R), meanwhile, asked the federal government to tell his administration how many Syrian refugees were already in the state, and requested that not a single new Syrian be moved into Tennessee.
Hannah Fletcher-Page was one of more than 400 people who rallied Nov. 23 at Legislative Plaza in Nashville on the other side of this debate. They marched to show their support for allowing as many refugees into Tennessee as the state could handle.
“We are not afraid, because fear only breeds hate,” Fletcher-Page told the Tennessean.
“I think that if we’re going to live in fear, we might as well just move into underground bunkers. We can’t live in fear.”
Gov. Haslam doesn’t see it that way at all. He said a reluctance, or yes, even fear of allowing Syrian refugees into Tennessee following the ISIS attacks in Paris is perfectly understandable.
“These terrible events have once again shown us that the threat of Islamic terrorism knows no boundaries and recognizes no borders. We as a state must do everything we can to provide Tennesseans the safe environment to live, work and raise a family that so many across the world seek,” Haslam said.
Haslam knows the federal government has already moved some Syrian refugees into Tennessee without his permission. He doesn’t want any more “until states can become more of a partner in the vetting process.”
Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini has not come down completely on the side of Fletcher-Page and those calling for an open admittance policy for the Syrians. But she did criticize Haslam for “not reaching out to the federal government to have a substantive conversation.”
“He and the Republicans in the State House and State Senate are offering us the same old politically-motivated, reactionary response that shows a startling lack of independent thought,” Mancini said. “It also shows that, once again, Republicans in Tennessee are more interested in playing politics than solving problems.”
Mancini’s counterpart at the Tennessee GOP didn’t pull any punches in his response to that statement.
“Tennessee Democrats show a stunning level of ignorance about the role of the states and the complex world we live in,” said Tennessee GOP Chair Ryan Haynes. “Leaders can legitimately take pause about our immigration procedures in light of the fact we are still answering basic questions from the worst terrorist attack in France since World War II.”
Andre Segura of the Immigrants’ Rights Project in Tennessee and Cody Wofsy of the Tennessee ACLU Immigrants Rights Project, not surprisingly, came down on the side of Democrats. They didn’t use the word “ignorance,” but they came close.
Segura and Wofsy issued a joint statement calling the GOP’s approach to the Syrian refugees a “misguided knee-jerk reaction.”
Republicans, like state Sen. Bill Ketron, voiced strong support for Gov. Haslam.
“I have been very concerned for many years that what happened in Paris could happen here because of the lack of transparency and accountability regarding the federal government’s refugee resettlement program,” said Ketron.
Ketron also vowed to introduce legislation in January to determine how much refugee resettlement is already costing Tennessee taxpayers.
“Beyond the urgent public safety concerns, state governments must pay the tab for refugee needs, like healthcare, education, and welfare programs,” Ketron said.
“This bill is about transparency so that we know the full costs of supporting these refugees that the federal government has thrust upon us,” he added.
State Rep. Glen Casada (R) does not want Tennessee to pay another dime to house, feed, and protect Syrian refugees.
In fact, he wants any Syrian refugees already in the state — the best count is there are more than 1,600 in Tennessee — to be “gathered up” by the National Guard and bussed to the nearest ICE immigration center, the first stop on their way out of the state.
After all of the Syrian refugees are expelled from Tennessee, Casada said the National Guard should set up roadblocks and barricades to ensure no more Syrians make their way into the state.
“I’m not worried about what a bureaucrat in D.C. or an unelected judge thinks,” Casada told the Tennessean. “The federal government is forsaking the obligation to protect our citizens.”