Tennessee Legislators Push Plan To Block Refugee Resettlement in State

Middle Eastern Refugees AP

A committee at the Tennessee House of Representatives has approved a resolution authorizing a lawsuit  against the federal refugee program, marking another step forward in a fierce battle with establishment progressive and business groups.

The resolution calls for the state of Tennessee to sue the federal government on Tenth Amendment grounds over the federal effort to settle welfare-dependent foreign refugees in the state without the state’s permission. The resolution was approved Tuesday by the State and Local Government Committee, on a 7 to 3 vote.

The potential for political skullduggery by pro-migrant lobbyists, however, remains.

Senate Joint Resolution 467 now goes to the House Finance, Ways and Committee Subcommitee, where passage is likely, barring any unanticipated backroom deal, and then on to the full House Finance, Ways and Committee, where passage is also likely.

Should the resolution clear those two hurdles, it will be brought to the floor of the House, where passage is certain, since more than 70 of that body’s 99 members are co-sponsors of the resolution.

“SJR [467] still must proceed through sub and full finance [committees],” State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster), sponsor or the resolution in the House, tells Breitbart News. “Today I asked each member (R) if they are still good and their answer was yes, move it out,” Weaver adds.

The resolution easily passed the State Senate in February on a 27 to 5 vote.

The fact that the resolution must pass through both the Finance Committee as well as the State and Local Government Committee is a consequence of some behind-the-scenes manipulation to place a phony “fiscal note” on the resolution.

Under Tennessee state law, any legislation that has a potential cost impact of more than $10,000 must have a fiscal note attached. Under the rules of the Tennessee House, any bill or resolution to which a fiscal note is attached must be reviewed in the Finance Committee of the House. Had no such note been attached, the resolution would have gone only to the State and Local Government Committee prior to coming to the floor of the House for a final vote.

Since the Thomas More Law Center, a public interest law firm, has stated it will represent the state of Tennessee in any potential Tenth amendment litigation against the federal government’s refugee resettlement program at no cost, there was never a need to attach a fiscal note to the resolution, except for purposes of political obstruction and delay.

Despite this, Speaker Beth Harwell and State Rep. Charles Sargent (R-Franklin), Chairman of the Finance, Ways and Means Committee, have decided to add the additional hurdle of sending the resolution to the subcommittee chaired by State Rep. Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) first.

“Any piece of legislation with a fiscal note is sent to Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee, regardless of amendments that might be added in other committees,” a spokesperson for Speaker Harwell told Breitbart News.

“SJR 467 has been assigned by the Clerk’s office to the Finance Subcommittee because any bill that has a Fiscal Note either positive or negative is referred to Finance,” a spokesperson for State Rep. Sargent told Breitbart News.

“Fiscal Notes are authored by the Fiscal Review department staff. Rep. Sargent is aware of the Thomas More Law Center’s offer and signed on to the attached letter dated December 8th encouraging the state to utilize this organization … I’m sure they will have conversations about the content of the fiscal note next week,” the spokesperson added.

Sargent’s GOP primary challenger, businessman Steve Gawrys, has a different viewpoint.

“It is ridiculous that legislation with overwhelming support and which is vital to help protect our communities from a large resettlement of people into our state that terror groups have already claimed to have infiltrated is being delayed by career politicians like Charles Sargent,” Gawrys tells Breitbart News.

“Unfortunately Tennessee families don’t have lobbyists who can contribute to Sargent and get his full attention with those thousands of dollars in campaign contributions,” he adds.

“Some like Charles Sargent and others want to downplay the security risks of this massive resettlement of people from terror hotspots by claiming that they aren’t all terrorist. But if I put a bowl of M&Ms in front of you and explain that no more than 5-6 are poisoned would you be foolish enough to offer the bowl to your children?” Gawrys asks.

“Of course not, but that’s what Sargent and others trying to block or slow this bill are asking Tennesseans to do!” he concludes.

Should the House pass the resolution, it will join with the State Senate, and the two state legislative bodies that comprise the Tennessee General Assembly will engage the legal services of the Thomas More Law Center, a conservative public interest law firm, to initiate the litigation against the federal government in federal court.

Under Tennessee law, a resolution does not require the signature of the governor. Incumbent Governor Bill Haslam, a Republican, has indicated his opposition to the resolution.

Also under Tennessee law, the Tennessee General Assembly has the authority to bring litigation and does not require the participation of either the governor or the state’s attorney general to do so.

It is anticipated that the Tennessee General Assembly will accept the Thomas More Law Center’s offer to represent the state of Tennessee at no cost to the state.

The Finance, Ways, and Means Committee hearings will provide the far left professional protesters who benefit financially from the current refugee resettlement program yet another public opportunity to present a well rehearsed, though factually inaccurate, theatrical performance that will be spun favorably by the social justice-friendly Gannett Media-owned local newspaper, the Tennessean.

Earlier in the month, Stephanie Teatro, a Canadian-born former union organizer who arrived in Tennessee in 2012, four years after the state formally withdrew from the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program, to work for the local “community organizing group,” known as The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC), told lawmakers at a subcommittee hearing of the State and Local Government Committee:

The state has been resettling refugees for decades and Catholic Charities took over the program nearly a decade ago . . . Why is there such urgency to resolve outstanding constitutional questions now? It is clear that legislators are playing off the fears and worst instincts of their constituents to score political points, no matter what the cost.

As the Tennessean reported of that hearing:

Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, and Holly Johnson, state refugee coordinator for Catholic Charities, warned the committee that the lawsuit would perpetuate a culture of fear over refugees that sends the wrong message.

Teatro suggested the state wait to see what happens in Alabama and Texas, which is also suing the federal government over refugee resettlement, before letting Tennessee move forward.

In an attempt to bolster her argument, Johnson cited public comments by Haslam, in which the governor said those seeking to harm the country are not coming into the United States through the refugee resettlement program.

Both Teatro and Johnson have noted the financial benefit that refugees provide the state — a 2013 report presented to the Joint Government Operations Legislative Advisory Committee determined that refugees and their descendants provided $1.4 billion in revenue for Tennessee between 1990 and 2012, compared with requiring $753 million in state support.

Despite claims presented by Teatro and Johnson of “financial benefit that refugees provide the state,” Don Barnett of the Center for Immigration Studies debunked the 2013 report cited as evidence to support this claim in exhaustive detail back in January 2014.

Teatro’s suggestion that the state “wait to see what happens in Alabama and Tennessee, conveniently ignores the fact that  neither the Alabama nor the Texas refugee resettlement lawsuits are making the same Tenth Amendment argument as Tennessee will.

TIRRC calls itself “a statewide, immigrant and refugee-led collaboration whose mission is to empower immigrants and refugees throughout Tennessee to develop a unified voice, defend their rights, and create an atmosphere in which they are recognized as positive contributors to the state.”

As the TIRRC website says of Teatro’s background:

She also lived and worked in Northeast Thailand as a program facilitator with the Council for International Educational Exchange. Prior to moving to Nashville, Stephanie was a union organizer with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. She has been working with TIRRC since 2012.

Prior to becoming the Co-Executive Director, Stephanie was our Director of Advocacy where she led our programs to build the capacity of grassroots immigrant leaders to speak for themselves, to engage fully in the civic process, and to advocate for policies that make it easier for everyone to fully participate in public life.

Stephanie is a steering committee member of Nashville For All Of Us, a member of Nashville Mayor Megan Barry’s New Americans Advisory Council, an executive committee member of the national Fair Immigration Reform Movement and a board member of the National Partnership for New Americans.

TIRCC was founded in 2001 by David Lubell, who subsequently founded a non-profit immigration advocacy group called Welcoming America, which “received its first funding in 2007 from the George Soros-financed Four Freedoms Foundation.”

As Breitbart News reported previously, Lubell’s group is currently leading “an aggressive PR Campaign” on behalf of “[t]he nine contractors receiving huge payments from the White House’s $1 billion U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program” whose purpose is “ to crush what they call ‘pockets of resistance’ to the Muslim migration into the United States.”

TIRCC has been funded by a number of far left “social justice” foundations and organizations, including the Marguerite Casey Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation,  and Unbound Philosophy, among others.

It has also been funded by Catholic Charities of Tennessee, the VOLAG [Voluntary Agency] selected by the federal government to operate the U.S. Refugee Resettlement program in Tennessee after the state withdrew from the program in 2008.

Tennessee is one of 12 states that have withdrawn from the U.S. Refugee Resettlement program, but where the program is being operated by the federal government through subcontracted VOLAGs as part of what is referred to as “Wilson-Fish alternative programs.”

The constitutional argument against the continued operation of such programs is that the “Wilson-Fish” amendment passed by the Congress in 1984 subsequent to the enabling statute–the US Refugee Act of 1980–provided no statutory authority authorizing the federal government to operate the refugee resettlement program in states that have withdrawn from the program.

The resolution to authorize the state of Tennessee to sue the federal government over its operation of the refugee resettlement program appears to be on a path to pass the Tennessee House prior to the end of the current session.

But 2016 is a political year in which anything can happen, and the resolution’s opponents may yet have a few political tricks to play.


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