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Turner’s Convention Center Illegal Immigrant Complaint Still Unresolved

The House Democratic caucus chairman has yet to provide all the information the Labor Department needs to decide whether to investigate if illegal immigrants are or were working on the Music City Center construction site. He now says he may end up dropping the complaint.

State labor officials haven’t decided whether to investigate if illegal immigrants are working on the new Nashville convention center, almost three months after state Rep. Mike Turner filed a complaint outlining the allegation.

But Turner says he’s satisfied the Nashville-Davidson Metropolitan Government and project managers of the Music City Center have been “bending over backwards” to double-check for illegal workers.

Turner, the House Democratic caucus chairman, says he’ll decide soon whether to drop his complaint altogether.

None of the contractors on the job, including the firms Turner identified in his July complaint to the Department of Labor, were found to have employed illegal immigrants on the job site, according to a spokeswoman from Metro’s Convention Center Authority.

“There’s no indication anyone’s working here illegally,” said Holly McCall of the Music City Center project. She said all contractors have signed documents attesting that their employees are legal workers and noted that workers are required to fill out federal I-9 forms that verify their status.

The Metro Nashville government is overseeing the Music City Center project, and McCall says an internal audit has found no illegal immigrant workers on the site. Metro Auditor Mark Swan declined to comment about the official findings of that audit, the results of which he said will be published later this year.

Turner’s complaint seems on the verge of becoming moot anyway, said McCall. “He has refused to tell us or the mayor’s office who they are. As far as I’m concerned, it’s gossip.”

Turner said he has two unnamed individuals willing to testify about construction companies employing illegal immigrants at the job site, but said he isn’t sure whether that is necessary.

“They appear to be doing a better job of hiring local people,” said Turner. “If there are any illegals on this job today, they’d be stupid because the hammer could fall on them at any minute if that’s the case.”

The Department of Labor has waited weeks for additional information from Turner in order to decide whether to investigate the claim, officials said Thursday. Neither Turner nor the department would comment on exactly what the information includes.

“We do want to make a decision soon, and this information that we’re waiting on really is what’s holding us up,” said Jeff Hentschel, a Labor Department spokesman.

The subject of illegal immigration has become an even more heated political issue over the past several months in the wake of Arizona’s passage of a law allowing police officers to check suspected lawbreakers for citizenship status.

Despite a challenge by the Justice Department to the Arizona law, many states, including Tennessee, are considering legislation of their own that emulates or declares support for the border state’s efforts. Those include South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota and Rhode Island.

The Republican-led Tennessee Senate passed a resolution cheering Arizona’s law last session. Turner, a high-ranking Democrat, stood against the bill in the House, saying lawmakers who like Arizona’s legislation so much should pitch an actual proposal, not a celebratory resolution.

Weeks after the Legislature went home, Turner filed a complaint with the Tennessee Department of Labor, alleging that some construction workers at the Nashville convention center site were illegal immigrants.

McCall speculated that electoral politics may have played a role in Turner’s actions.

The outspoken Old Hickory Democrat is squaring off in the November election with Old Hickory Republican Charles Williamson.

Williamson, a buffalo rancher, is promising “to lead the effort to bring a stop to illegal immigration in the state of Tennessee.” He has called Turner, a fire fighter, “wishy-washy” in his public stances on illegal immigration.

“I believe he’s playing both sides of the fence on this issue,” said Williamson.

A report by WTVF Channel 5 found that four years after passage of legislation to ensure the state doesn’t work with contractors that hire illegal immigrants, no companies have been punished. Critics told the TV station that if the state subjected companies to closer inspection, they would find violations.

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