Statement from Tennessee State Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, Nov. 18, 2015:
NASHVILLE, TN – Today, State Representative John Ray Clemmons (HD-55) joined House Democratic colleagues and members of the community, including local clergy, immigration rights advocates and community leaders for a press availability in the wake of Republicans’ proposals concerning refugee resettlement in Tennessee.
I would like to welcome all the members of the press present today, as well as the community leaders who have taken the time to join us here in the Legislative Plaza today. I am joined today by my House Democratic colleague Representative Jason Powell. Chairman Mike Stewart is unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict. We are here today to address the drastic deterioration of the dialogue on the refugee issue in our state.
First, I would like to begin by stating how proud I am to represent Nashville, a welcoming and increasingly diverse city that recognizes the cultural and economic value of foreign-born citizens who wish to call Nashville home. As the capital of our great state, Nashville stands as an international beacon of hope to families worldwide seeking refuge in these United States. Thousands, including Kurds, Sudanese or those known as the “Lost Boys” and many others have sought and found refuge in our community. Additionally, I am incredibly proud of the tireless efforts of Siloam Family Health Center and Nations Ministry Center, both of which are located in my district, as well as the work of the Catholic Charities of Tennessee and its Tennessee Office for Refugees.
Less than a week has passed since the tragic events in Paris, France. We have seen America at her best, but sadly, we have seen some Americans at their worst. During this short time, the following proposals have been made by Republican leaders in our state:
First, Republican leaders in the General Assembly and Governor Haslam have taken proactive steps to suspend Syrian refugee resettlements in the state of Tennessee. In response to this, Chairman Stewart, Representative Powell and I issued a request for an expedited legal opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General on the following questions of law: 1) whether the state or the Governor possesses the legal authority to refuse refugee resettlements in our state; 2) whether the state or the Governor possesses the legal authority to refuse refugee resettlements in our state on the basis of a refugee’s country of origin; and 3) whether the state or the Governor possesses the legal authority to refuse refugee resettlements in our state on the basis of a refugee’s religion.
Then, just last evening, Republican Chairman Glen Casada called for the mobilization of the National Guard to block any Syrian refugees from entering our state and to round up any Syrian refugees who have recently resettled in Tennessee and return them to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office for removal from Tennessee.
This unethical and irresponsible proposal to utilize military personnel to round up men, women and children should serve to truly shock our state’s collective conscience. This proposal is nothing short of a direct insult to the principles of our democracy, the foundation of our republic and any notion of American freedom.
Since when do we, as Americans, turn our backs on humanity in the interest of political posturing? Since when we do we allow fear to dictate our willingness to stand in firm defense of those without the means to stand up for themselves?
This is the Volunteer State. Throughout our state’s proud history, we have stepped up en masse when others required our assistance in the face of threats to the core values and liberties that we hold dear. The proposals set forth to close our borders and round up refugees stand in stark contrast to our state’s courageously earned nickname and reputation.
We all have sincere concerns for the safety of our communities, and no one wants a single terrorist entering our country disguised as a refugee. According to the information that is made public, the United States has a stringent, multi-level process in place to prevent this very thing from happening. The laws of this country place the duty to ensure our safety in this respect squarely on the shoulders of the federal government. For this reason, we would respectfully call on President Obama and the federal government to re-double their efforts to insure that a terrorist is unable to hide among the thousands of innocent refugees seeking to resettle in our country.
In conclusion, I would like to make the following requests:
Our state is on pace to have approximately one billion dollars in surplus revenue. We would respectfully request that they Governor and our colleagues in the General Assembly increase funding for local public safety officers and the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. This will complement the efforts of the federal government and help ensure that Tennesseans are protected and provide for the public safety, which is everyone’s priority.
We would also respectfully ask that residents of the state of Tennessee call on the Governor and your elected officials to share your opinions and concerns on this important topic. Also, please remember to vote.
All of our ancestors, Democrats and Republicans alike, were immigrants who at one time landed on the shores of this country, many with hope of a better future and in search of safety and opportunity for their families. Thankfully, they were not turned away, and we, as their descendants, are able to enjoy the freedoms of this country. Let us not now allow the efforts of a few to sully the reputation of our welcoming country by denying others the same opportunities and freedoms with which we are blessed and hold dear.
Again, I sincerely thank you all for being here today. Your interest in this issue is vital to improving our public dialogue. Thank you.