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Proceeding with Caution: Impact of Paris Attack on Syrian Refugees in TN

Syrian children continue to try to get an education in the midst of the conflict in their home country. Credit: UK Department for International Development/Wikimedia Commons
Syrian children continue to try to get an education in the midst of the conflict in their home country. Credit: UK Department for International Development/Wikimedia Commons
November 18, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - This week, Tennessee joined at least 27 states whose governors have opposed settling Syrian refugees, in light of the recent attacks in Paris.

Underlying their concerns is the fact that one of the attackers entered France by posing as a Syrian refugee. Legal experts assert there is legal precedent that the federal government sets immigration and refugee policy, and states cannot refuse a specific group of people.

Holly Johnson, state refugee coordinator for the Tennessee Office for Refugees, says it's important to note the suspected terrorist in France had registered himself as a refugee but had not been given refugee status, and the U.S. has a much more stringent screening process.

"Their screening process is not the same as ours," says Johnson. "I have 100 percent confidence that our process would have weeded him out, should he have been screened to come to the U.S."

Johnson and others acknowledge that states can deny their resources to the federal government and potentially make the resettlement of refugees more difficult. So far, 1,500 Syrian refugees have been accepted into the United States since 2011, but the Obama administration announced in September the country would accept 10,000 next year.

Many of the Syrians who are seeking refugee status are fleeing a region controlled by ISIS. For that reason, Johnson says Tennesseans have something in common with them.

"The true Syrian refugees are running from the same stuff we are," she says. "Like we're on the same side against terrorists."

Gov. Bill Haslam is asking the federal government to suspend placements of Syrian refugees in Tennessee until the states can become "more of a partner in the vetting process."

Last night, he and other governors are believed to have had a conference call with the White House to discuss better ways to open up lines of communication regarding refugees and how they can safely be admitted.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN