Haslam, political leaders address immigration following France attacks

Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday he was asking the federal government to suspend placements of Syrian refugees into Tennessee until U.S. states "can become more of a partner in the vetting process."

(WBIR) Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday he was asking the federal government to suspend placements of Syrian refugees into Tennessee until U.S. states "can become more of a partner in the vetting process."

"We are currently working to get specifics from the U.S. Department of State on the status of any Syrian refugees currently slated to come to Tennessee," a statement from Haslam reads. "While screening, acceptance and placement is legally under the authority of the federal government, they have said in the past they would be open to cooperating with receiving states."

In recognizing Friday's terror attacks in Paris, Haslam also said they are a reminder that "Islamic terrorism" can happen anywhere.

"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," the statement reads.

ACLU-TN's executive director Hedy Weinberg responded Monday that she was, "very disappointed with Governor Haslam's request to the federal government to suspend the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Tennessee.  We mourn and condemn the horrific attacks in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad. However, the attempt by Governor Haslam and other lawmakers to draw a link between such tragedies and the admission and resettlement of Syrian refugees in Tennessee is a reflexive overreaction. The U.S. already has an extremely rigorous and multi-layered security screening program in place for refugees seeking to resettle here."

Country of origin for refugees in Tennessee

In 2015, more than 1,600 refugees settled in Tennessee. Here's a breakdown of their country of origin: 

Mobile Users: Click here for a chart of the countries of origin for 1,601 refugees who settled in Tennessee in 2015

Source: Tennessee Office for Refugees 

Members of Tennessee's congressional delegation also addressed the question Monday.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Chattanooga, said: "While this violence reminds us of why millions of people are fleeing regions terrorized by Islamic extremists, there can be no shortcuts when it comes to guaranteeing the safety of the American people. Any proposed change in U.S. policy by this administration must involve a careful assessment of all the implications and ensure that there is no added security risk."

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Maryville, said the Obama administration can't take "shortcuts" when it comes to the refugee process.

"The federal government should respect the wishes of states in placing these refugees," a statement from Alexander reads. "But the real focus should be for the United States to work with Europe and our other allies to defeat ISIS and stabilize Syria so millions of Syrians won't have to leave their homes."

U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville, said in his view the U.S. can't control the Middle East. But it can control its borders. 

"In light of the terror attacks in Paris, we need to temporarily halt all immigration from countries with ties to ISIS or Al-Qaeda," a statement from Duncan reads. "In addition to that, we need to stop being so politically correct and thoroughly investigate any person who comes here from a nation or region known for supporting radical Islam.

"We have allowed many millions into this country over the last 40 or 50 years, far more immigration than any other country. Several million have come here on H1B visas, taking some of our highest-paying jobs, not just the ones Americans do not want."

Also commenting was U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, an Ooltewah Republican. 

"In light of the horrendous attacks in Paris, I believe that we must halt our refugee program with Syria until the proper safeguards are in place," Fleischmann's statement reads. "The United States has a long and proud tradition of helping those in need, but this is no longer just a humanitarian crisis.  Our top priority must always be protecting the American people."

Said U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City: "We cannot be certain each refugee entering the U.S. from Syria has been thoroughly and properly vetted, and we cannot risk opening ourselves up to another attack. That is why I am a cosponsor of legislation that suspends the president's authority to place refugees in the United States. President Obama's strategy to defeat the ISIS is not working and he needs to put forward a responsible plan."

Over the weekend, state Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey issued a statement on social media calling for the U.S. to reduce immigration numbers.

The Blountville Republican didn't specify which immigrants Americans should look out for, but specifically attributed the attack to France for accepting immigrants from "the Islamic world."

"This is a terrible tragedy, but it is also a lesson. A nation without borders is no nation at all. For years, France allowed immigrants from the Islamic world to flood their borders and overrun their communities. What happened last night is a window into one possible future for our nation if we fail to get control of our border," Ramsey said in a post on his Facebook page.

On Monday, state Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, issued his own statement.

"We should offer safe sanctuary because we can, and taking several dozen displaced families is the least we can do," Sen. Harris said "We should step up when called, because that's what the good guys do during these days of crises, and we should not turn a cold shoulder, because we understand that the refugees will head into the arms whoever offers help first, including the bad guys and those who might seek to exploit these families."

In addition to Tennessee, a number of states' governors in the South have opposed Syrian Immigration, according to the Associated Press.


The governors of Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas have recently made statements opposing Syrian immigration in response to the Paris terrorist attacks.

Related: States attempt to prevent the resettlement of Syrian refugees

The Tennessean and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


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