TN Senate votes to sue federal government over refugee program

Published 11:20 am Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Ramsey Quote
Members of the Tennessee Senate voted by overwhelming majority on Monday to direct the state Attorney General to file suit against the federal government over the nation’s refugee placement program and policies.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, whose district includes a portion of Carter County, filed Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 467 to authorize Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery to file suit against the federal government and claiming the federal government is in “noncompliance” with the terms of the Refugee Act of 1980 and also asserting the federal government does not have the authority to direct states to expend state tax revenue on federally mandate programs without the authorization of the state’s governing body.
The federal government’s refugee placement program became the subject of much controversy in the wake Islamic State-inspired terrorist attacks in Paris. Many state and federal officials have expressed concerns that terrorist operatives could make their way into the United States through the refugee program and also worry that the government’s means of investigating refugee is not sufficient to weed out possible terrorists.
“A nation without well-policed borders is no nation at all,” Ramsey said. “In the era of ISIS, it is imperative to vet those coming into our nation and our state.”
The SJR states that under the terms of The Refugee Act of 1980, the federal government is required to “consult regularly” with state and local governments as well as private nonprofit volunteer agencies concerning refugee sponsorship and distribution before the placement of those refugees in the state or local community.
“The federal government has thus far refused to be a transparent partner in the refugee vetting process,” Ramsey said. “If we are not able to identify potential threats, we cannot adequately protect our citizenry.”
State Sen. Rusty Crowe, who also represents a portion of Carter County, co-sponsored the resolution. He also voiced concerns regarding the safety of state residents.
“We have always been a nation and state of immigrants, however, this latest move by the federal government to the refugee population from the Middle East into states like Tennessee is very problematic,” Crowe said. “We are not in control of who is being sent our way or where they are being settled.”
“We are also not confident that their backgrounds are being checked or even if there is a way to know with confidence whether they might pose a threat to our citizens,” he added. “We do know that young men and women who are predisposed to terrorism are using this resettlement process to enter our country and that poses a grave concern to me.”
The SJR also alleges that in addition to failing to comply with the Refuge Act of 1980, the federal government is overstepping its authority by requiring states to use state tax revenue to fund program to support refugees. The challenge proposed by the Senate would be mounted under the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment, which grants powers to the states that are not specifically given to the federal government in the Constitution. In the case of the SJR, the challenge is aimed at the federal government requiring Tennessee to spend state tax money on refugees in areas like TennCare without the approval of the state legislature, which is required under the Tennessee Constitution. If the state refuses to fund refugee services under TennCare, which is the state’s Medicaid program, the state could risk losing all Medicaid funding from the federal government.
The SJR cites the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius (2012) in which the Court ruled the federal government cannot lawfully coerce the State to provide funding with no real option but to comply.
“If it is constitutionally permissible for the federal government to compel a state legislative body to perform its most important function, the appropriation of state tax dollars, as well as expend its limited resources, personnel, and services on a program from which it has withdrawn, the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is merely words on paper, and the powers of the federal government are unfettered and boundless, allowing it to require the same of any state, for any program at any time,” the SJR said. “While Tennesseeans are proud to be the 16th member of these United States, the right of Tennessee to appropriate tax dollars in a manner determined by representatives elected by its citizens is fundamental and cannot be usurped, lest the legislative bodies in all of these United States be considered mere departments of the federal government and rendered impotent and unnecessary.”
Ramsey said the resolution is intended to protect the state’s right to determine how it spends its tax dollars and also to protect the citizens of Tennessee.
“This resolution encourages Tennessee to seek relief in the courts so that Tennessee can once again assert control over refugee placement in Tennessee in order to ensure our ability to protect our citizens,” Ramsey said.
Crowe echoed the sentiment expressed by Ramsey.
“I contend the federal government cannot tell our state how to spend dollars through a program which it has opted out of,” Crowe said. “This regulation has to do with a declaration of our rights and just good common sense in working to protect those we serve.”
Under the terms of the resolution, if Attorney General Herbert Slaterly declines to file the lawsuit, the Tennessee General Assembly is granted the authority to hire private counsel to pursue the lawsuit.
After passing the Senate on Monday, the resolution will now be forwarded to the House of Representatives.

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