Refugee resettlement in Tennessee has brought sizable fiscal rewards for the federal contractors operating in Tennessee but along with helping to establish what former mayor Karl Dean celebrated as “growing enclaves of immigrants” has come Kurdish and Somali gangs from refugee groups brought to the state.
In 2007, the New York Times reported that police described the Kurdish gang members as “increasingly vicious and brazen.” That same year former Shelbyville Times-Gazette reporter Brian Mosely, a Tennessee Press Association awardee, wrote about drug dealing and gang problems associated with Somalis that had settled in Bedford County.
Gang experts warn that gangs made up of people that come from war-torn countries pose a “unique problem” because they are desensitized to violence and dismissive of authority.
Just weeks ago, Nashville’s first Kurdish refugee turned Metro police officer, investigated by the TBI and discovered to have lied about his connections with the Kurdish Pride Gang, was charged with 57 counts of official misconduct.
In April, four Somali men including Salim Hussein from Nashville, drove to Concord, New Hampshire to violently confront other Somalis at a wedding party there. Hussein was charged reckless conduct with a firearm and reportedly remains in jail.
Police have suggested that the four Somalis are in some way connected to Columbus, Ohio Somali street gangs and tribal clashes:
Somalians don’t forget tribal animosities just because they move to the United States, and at one point Columbus tracked 10 to 15 clans with histories of grudges and shifting alliances, said Khaled Bahgat, the new American diversity/inclusion officer for Columbus police. He added that those animosities seemed to have calmed in recent years.
The FBI’s 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment noted that Somali nationals involved in gang activity were mostly refugees and that Somali gang activity was reported in Nashville:
Somali gangs tend to align and adopt gang names based on clan or tribe, although a few have joined national gangs such as the Crips and Bloods…
Somalian gangs are involved in drug and weapons trafficking, human trafficking, credit card fraud, prostitution, and violent crime. Homicides involving Somali victims are often the result of clan feuds between gang members. Sex trafficking of females across jurisdictional and state borders for the purpose of prostitution is also a growing trend among Somalian gangs.
Federal refugee resettlement contractor Catholic Charities of TN is credited with bringing the first Kurds to Nashville in 1976 and with this group came the Kurdish Pride Gang. Between refugee resettlement and “secondary migration” Nashville’s Kurdish community is estimated at about 11,000.
Marking the influx of Somali refugees to Tennessee is less precise because federal data on refugee resettlement only dates to 2002. However, Shelbyville Times-Gazette articles about the employment of Somalis at Tyson Foods, puts the date around 2005. Catholic Charities resettlement proposals confirm that they were bringing Somali refugees to Tennessee.
Midway through his two terms as governor, Phil Bredesen withdrew the state of Tennessee from the federal refugee resettlement program creating the opportunity for the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to designate Catholic Charities of Tennessee to instead, administer the program for the state. Once Catholic Charities assumed that role it is estimated that in the first full year they were in charge, refugee arrivals to Tennessee increased by approximately 66% even though refugee arrivals nationally had declined.
According to the latest annual reports published by Catholic Charities of Tennessee, between 2015 and 2017, 56% of their total income was received from the ORR totaling more than $20 million for resettling refugees in Tennessee.