NASHVILLE, TN (WKRN) – A top Tennessee Republican leader doubled down Wednesday on comments that Syrian refugees in Tennessee “should be rounded up” by the National Guard and taken to federal immigration officials.
Several state Democrats quickly fired back by saying the comments were “irresponsible” or “absurd” and “an insult” to democracy.
Rep. Glen Casada of Williamson County told reporters in a half-hour news conference Wednesday that “I am going to protect your family and mine by making statements that no terrorists get into the state.”
Casada, who chairs the Tennessee House Republican Caucus, said his ideas come after an ISIS leader said that 4,000 terrorists are already in Europe and that the FBI Director has stated that the US can’t vet all the Syrian refugees for terrorist ties.
“I am sounding the alarm. Terrorists are here. What do we do?” added Casada, who stressed he was speaking for himself and not for the supermajority of Republicans lawmakers who elected him to his House leadership position.
“There are many tools to protect Tennesseans, not to internment camps but [getting] back to the Feds, make sure the Feds know who we have, is safe,” he said.
Casada called for what he termed “civil disobedience” by suggesting the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) keep a close eye on any refugee in the state.
The Republican leader was well aware that moments after his news conference was over several House Democrats would be responding to his comments.
“I understand the Democrats are concerned about political correctness. I am concerned about protecting Tennessee lives,” he said while saying rounding up the Syrian refugees would be “a last resort” and “would not rule it out.”
Rep. Casada also urged Tennesseans to call their lawmakers asking for Governor Bill Haslam to call a special session to deal with questions about the Syrian refugees.
Shortly after his fellow Republican spoke, Governor Bill Haslam issued the following statement:
“Earlier this week I requested that the federal government, which has legal authority over the screening and placement of refugees, to suspend placements of Syrian refugees in Tennessee until states can be made more of a partner in the vetting process. This request was made in response to the concern Tennesseans share about our security in light of the Paris attacks, and I believe states need to be more involved in knowing who is being placed in their jurisdictions.
However, let me be clear: We must not lose ourselves in the process. 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.”
Moments later, three House Democrats went much further in denouncing Rep. Casada’s comments.
“That is irresponsible conversation,” said Memphis House Democrat Joe Towns. “You are talking about some civil disobedience for that? We can manage the problem; that makes no sense. That is not leadership quality. That’s absurd.”
Towns even suggested “civil disobedience” on the hot-button issue of Medicaid expansion money.
“Pass Insure Tennessee for 300,000 people,” Rep. Towns added.
He was followed by a Nashville Democrat who spoke of the refugees in his House district.
“These are people who are contributing every day to America,” said Rep. Jason Powell. “They are employing people and we don’t have to turn on the American Dream because of some cowards and acts they have caused in Paris.”
Another Nashville Democrat said we are all in this together while calling Casada’s words “a direct insult to the principles of our democracy.”
“Democrats, Republicans, Tennesseans, everyone,” said Rep. John Ray Clemmons. “It’s us against the terrorists.”
When asked what they would do, the Democrats said the state should use what they called “one billion dollar in surplus revenue” to increase funding for local public safety officers and the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.”
Rep. Clemmons added that Tennessee residents should call the governor and elected officials “to share your opinions and concerns on this important topic.”