Lawmaker’s Suggestion To Round Up Syrian Refugees Sparks Debate In Tennessee

Nov 18, 2015

The terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday have spawned a passionate debate in the Tennessee legislature about refugee resettlement. Calls to round up recent Syrian arrivals have been met with strong rebukes.

"I'm sounding the alarm. Terrorists are here. What do we do?" state Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, told reporters Wednesday, elaborating on comments to The Tennessean suggesting the National Guard should remove Syrian refugees from the state. "We gather them, we take them back to ICE, and we say, 'gentlemen, make sure these guys have no ties to terrorist activity.'"

Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, choked back tears as Democrats responded.

“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,” Clemmons said at a small press conference.

Even Governor Bill Haslam, who has requested a temporary halt to Syrian resettlements, asked for leaders of his party to tone down the rhetoric.

MORE: Tennessee Joins Call To Halt Syrian Refugees, But Does It Have The Power To Turn Them Away?

"We must not lose ourselves in the process," Haslam said in a written statement. "If we abandon our values by completely shutting our doors to those who seek the freedom we enjoy or mistreating our neighbors who made it here after enduring unimaginable hardships, the terrorists win.”

This year, only 30 of the 1,600 refugees placed in the state are from Syria, according to the agency overseeing Tennessee's resettlements.

Casada said he's standing by his call for action.

“If I err, it will be on the side of not having another Paris, France," he said. "We realize that ISIS and other Islamic terrorist groups have and are infiltrating these Syrian refugee populations, so when we let them in, we’re letting terrorists in.”

A state legislative hearing has been scheduled for early December to question Tennessee’s top refugee resettlement officials.

This post has been updated.