Legislator’s letter to Haslam: Allow no Syrian refugees in Tennessee

Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, is asking fellow state legislators ti sign on to a letter she plans to deliver Wednesday to Gov. Bill Haslam, asking him to block the re-settlement in Tennessee of any Syrian refugees who haven’t gone through an extensive federal security clearance process.

From The Tennessean:

Although hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by the years-long conflict in Syria, the country is also home to the de facto capital of the terrorist organization the Islamic State. The Islamic State, or ISIS, has already claimed responsibility for the attacks in Paris that left at least 129 people dead and hundreds more injured.

…As Butt notes in her letter, there are reports that at least one of the attackers came to France along with refugees.

From July through the end of September, a little less than 600 refugees arrived in Tennessee, according to a quarterly report from the Tennessee Office of Refugees. That includes 378 refugees in Davidson County, 84 refugees in Knox County and 60 refugees in Shelby County.

Over the course of the next federal fiscal year. which began Oct. 1, the office anticipates another 1,800 refugees will re-settle in Tennessee. Roughly 1,300 are expected to settle in Davidson, Rutherford and Williamson counties, according to the report.

The office is run by Catholic Charities of Tennessee. Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, wants the state to play a more active role in regulating what refugees are allowed in Tennessee. In an email obtained by The Tennessean, Bowling argues the state is “totally unaware of who these ‘refugees’ are” with Catholic Charities running refugee resettlement in Tennessee.

UPDATE/Note: A few hours after this post, Haslam announced he has requested a suspension of any plans to bring Syrian refugees to Tennessee (Post: HERE). Butt says more than 40 other legislators had signed her letter at that point. Text of Butt’s letter is below:

Dear Governor Haslam:

Tennesseans are mourning this week with the people of Paris following the brutal and horrific terrorist attack last Friday. This is the second round of brutal terrorist murders in less than a year in Paris.

We understand completely the sense of helplessness, despair and dread after the terrorist attack on our own state in Chattanooga in July of this year. Four Marines and a Sailor were brutally and defenselessly shot and killed and other servicemen and a police officer were wounded. Many lives changed drastically that day. We still feel the violation and the loss.

Tennessee has historically welcomed immigrants, but we understand that our first priority at this time must be to protect the safety of the people in Tennessee. Multiple news agencies have reported that a Syrian passport was found at the scene of one of the attacks and matches a refugee who traveled through Greece.

We respectfully and urgently request that you suspend all efforts to settle any Syrian Refugees in Tennessee, through any agencies, until the U.S. Department of Homeland Security completes a full review of security clearances and procedures. Proper security vetting is an extensive process and can take up to a year or more and it is very questionable whether Syria even has a database which would allow the refugees to be vetted properly.

When DHS Secretary Jey Johnson discussed the refugee crisis earlier this year, he publicly stated, “We have no idea who these people are.” His concerns were echoed by FBI Director Comey days later when he said that refugees are not being adequately screened for terrorist ties.

Michigan Governor, Rick Snyder, who has made the comment himself that he believes he is “the most pro-immigration governor in the country” has already suspended settlement of Syrian refugees in Michigan. We implore you on behalf of the people whom we represent to take the responsibility as Governor to protect the safety of the people in the great State of Tennessee and do the same.


State Representative Sheila Butt