- Associated Press - Friday, May 20, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has decided not to veto a resolution demanding a lawsuit be filed over the federal refugee resettlement program in Tennessee.

The governor announced Friday that despite his concerns about the measure, he was allowing it to go forward without his signature.

“I have constitutional concerns about one branch of government telling another what to do,” Haslam said in a written statement to lawmakers.

Haslam said he had asked state Attorney General Herbert Slatery to clarify whether lawmakers have the authority to hire outside attorneys to represent the state.

Sponsors of the resolution have said that the Thomas More Law Center in Michigan has agreed to represent the state on a refugee lawsuit free of charge if the attorney general declines to sue.

Immigrant and refugee rights organizations who oppose the measure say it makes the state look unwelcoming. They also have argued that the true intention of the law is to stop or limit Muslim refugee resettlement in Tennessee.

Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, said the group was disappointed the governor didn’t veto the measure, which she called constitutionally suspect.

“As the global refugee crisis persists, we urge Governor Haslam to act with greater moral authority and courageous leadership,” she said in a statement. “We must counter fear and discrimination toward people fleeing persecution and provide greater investment in the life-saving work of refugee resettlement programs.”

Fears about refugees in Tennessee came into focus after terrorist attacks last year in Paris and San Bernardino, California. Supporters say the lawsuit is necessary because they believe refugees are not being properly vetted by President Barack Obama’s administration.

Alabama and Texas have sued the federal government over the refugee rights program.

Tennessee pulled out of the federal refugee resettlement program in 2008, Andrea Helling, a spokeswoman for the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, said in an email. Catholic Charities of Tennessee has been administering the program since that time, she said.

“Since the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980, over 3 million refugees from more than 70 countries have been given safe haven in the U.S., along with the possibility of a new beginning, and freedom from persecution and displacement,” Helling said.


Associated Press Writer Sheila Burke contributed to this report.

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