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Tennessee Sues Feds Over Refugee Resettlement, Cites 10th Amendment

Andrew Eicher
By Andrew Eicher | March 14, 2017 | 12:44 PM EDT

The State of Tennessee filed a lawsuit on March 13, becoming the first state in the nation to sue the federal government over refugee resettlement on the grounds of the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment, The Tennessean reported.

Tennessee argues that the federal government has forced the states to pay for the refugee resettlement program, thereby violating the 10th Amendment, which says the federal government possesses only the powers granted to it by the U.S. Constitution and that all other powers are reserved for the states. While other states have sued the federal government over refugee resettlement, this lawsuit is the first on these legal grounds.

Filed on behalf of several state lawmakers, the lawsuit names the U.S. Department of State, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement as defendants.

Syrian refugees protesting at a refugee camp.  (AP) 

The state requests the court to forbid the federal government from resettling refugees in Tennessee until the federal government covers all costs associated with the settlement.

“Plaintiffs respectfully request,” the lawsuit reads, “that this Court declare that the federal government has impermissibly intruded on Tennessee’s state sovereignty and order the federal government to abide by the restraints imposed by the United States Constitution.”

“This suit is not intended to inflict harm on immigrants or refugees,” the lawsuit continues. “Rather, this is a suit that seeks to preserve the constitutional relationship between the federal government and the states as mandated by our nation’s founders.”

Some groups have criticized the lawsuit. Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee decried the case as “not only very troubling, but unjust and wrong.”

Stephanie Teatro, executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, referred to the lawsuit as “extreme,” claiming that “its very filing assures Tennessee’s place in a very dark chapter of our country’s history.”

State Senator John Stevens (R-Huntingdon), defended the lawsuit in a news release. “The Constitution does not allow the Federal Government to force me as the elected representative of the 24th Senate District to implement federal programs while they sit in Washington insulated from the consequences,” he said.

The federal government resettled over 2,000 refugees in Tennessee during the 2016 fiscal year, according to Catholic Charities of Tennessee, a group contracted by the federal government to handle refugee resettlement in the state.