Immigration Issues Still on State Lawmakers’ Minds

Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly are bragging on their accomplishments in immigration reform — especially about a unique approach to the E-Verify hiring system — but what could be ripe for debate is the list of immigration bills they’re ready to push next year.

Lawmakers say they intend to pursue legislation beginning in January on immigration enforcement at the state level (SB0780), denying state taxpayer benefits to illegal aliens (HB1379), an English-only driver’s license process (SB0010) and, in what may be a highly volatile issue, an effort (HB0751) to seek clarification on whether a child born here to illegal aliens should be considered a citizen, as has generally been the practice.

Legislators are trumpeting their accomplishments in this year’s session not only on the successful E-Verify plan and the material support bill to fight “homegrown terrorism” but a lesser-known bill meant to address issues related to legal refugees who come into the state.

The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition has issued a detailed report on the Legislature’s efforts on immigration this year, including continued warnings about each of the bills that didn’t pass. The group claims success in holding the line on “Arizona copycat legislation,” but it remains aware of states’ individual efforts at enacting immigration reforms.

“Given the many challenges this session, the increase in anti-immigrant legislation across the Southeast and the continued failure of Congress to overhaul our legal immigration system, it’s clear that our struggle is far from over,” the organization said.

Judging from Tennessee legislators’ plans for 2012, including legislation on the “Arizona copycat” matter, where legislators demand state law enforcement officers check the immigration status of people they stop, advocates for immigrants do appear to have more battles ahead.

Immigrant rights groups have begun to challenge such laws in courts in other states.

Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, one of the most adamant proponents of immigration legislation in the state, has said he will try to get an enforcement bill passed next year.

“We waited to see what Georgia was doing, what Alabama was doing, and we’re going to tweak our bill,” Ketron said. “We’re going to come back with a vengeance, and thank goodness the Supreme Court ruled the way they did just a few weeks ago on that issue.

The high court dealt strictly with an employment issue, upholding Arizona’s law penalizing businesses that hire illegal immigrants, lending strength to states that want to use the federal E-Verify identity system. There is debate, however, as to how far the court might go in other areas of enforcement, such as checking papers. The court ruling, nevertheless, was a sign that states may be allowed to act on immigration enforcement where the federal government has not acted.

“We’re going to bring that bill hot and heavy,” Ketron said. “It’s going to be the best bill passed so far.”

Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, carried the E-Verify legislation passed in Tennessee this year, along with Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas. The system, run by the federal Department of Homeland Security, checks the eligibility status of workers through an Internet database. More than 225,000 employers use E-Verify, but it is mostly voluntary, unless state governments require it. Tennessee now requires it, although the law allows for use of a worker’s driver’s license.

Both Tracy and Carr believe the state has an advantage over other states with E-Verify laws.

Their optimism comes from the fact Tennessee will implement its law though the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, which already has purview over issues related to worker’s comp, unemployment insurance and labor standards such as child employment. The department handles the Illegal Alien Employment Act passed in 2007, so the belief is that the department can bring the most effective form of enforcement on E-Verify.

“It’s much harder for the district attorneys to do, because they don’t have the money or the wherewithal to do it,” Tracy said.

Carr concurred.

“Every other state uses the D.A.’s office as the sole means by which to initiate the prosecution,” Carr said. “We didn’t want to do that, not only because it comes up pretty close against the line of challenging the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution. What we did was we said, ‘Fine, we will make it an administrative issue.'”

The labor department will not enforce whether or not an employer has hired an illegal alien. It will only enforce the issue of whether the business is participating in E-Verify. The new state law requires participation and, in fact, holds harmless the employers who use the system if a worker is later found to be an illegal immigrant.

“Participation in E-Verify doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not they hired an illegal,” Carr said. “That’s a totally different statute.”

Then there is the refugee issue. Tracy has expressed concern about a program where the federal Department of State is sending refugees — often from countries prone to civil wars — into U.S. communities, working through Catholic Charities. The new law calls for the organization bringing in the refugees to meet with community leaders beforehand to let them know how many are coming so communities can prepare and calls for quarterly reports to community leaders and to the state.

“They’re legal refugees,” Tracy said.

“Especially in small communities it has a big impact, in housing, schools, hospitals, medical care. The community cannot stop them from coming, but it can be prepared for them.”

The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition calls the effort an “unprecedented attack on refugees.”

“New laws should encourage effective communication between refugee groups, refugee settlement agencies and receiving communities, but not create a hostile environment for refugee families who have come to Tennessee to escape persecution, find honest work and begin rebuilding their lives,” the group said.

Carr wants to test the courts on so-called “anchor babies,” children born in the United States whose parents are illegal immigrants.

The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

Carr points to the comma.

“There are five words: ‘subject to the jurisdiction thereof.’ The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled on the legality of an anchor baby or a child born to parents who both are illegal in the United States. Never ruled on that,” Carr said.

“We’ve got a bill already filed and written. The point is to get the Supreme Court to initiate a ruling. Is a child born in the United States whose parents both are illegal a naturalized citizen? I think we need a determination of that because we all know there is a significant element that’s taking advantage of our laws. And all the interpretation is that it’s an administrative procedure that’s being wrongly interpreted as described in the 14th Amendment.”

Carr is also working on an initiative known as the SAVE bill, for Systematic Alien for Entitlements Program, where agencies granting benefits receive help determining an applicant’s immigration status. The bill’s intent is to prevent taxpayer benefits from going to illegal aliens. Carr said Speaker of the House Beth Harwell and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick have said it will be a Republican caucus position. He also said Gov. Bill Haslam has said he will fund the bill.

“That’s a huge commitment. We’re going to get that bill passed,” Carr said.

Ketron has tried for years to get a bill through that required the written test for a driver’s license to be in English.

“It’s a safety bill,” he said. “We welcome anybody who wants to come to this country, no matter what color you are or what country you come from. You’re welcome to come to this country. If you come here, live by our laws and speak the English language first.”

Republicans hold a 64-34-1 majority in the House and a 20-13 majority in the Senate. One notable factor involving immigration bills, however, is Haslam, who has questioned whether some measures in the past present Tennessee as a welcoming state.

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  • Donna Locke

    This story is inaccurate.

    The so-called E-Verify bill passed this year by the Tennessee General Assembly does not require any employer — not even state agencies and contractors working for the state! — to run anyone through the E-Verify system. The mandate and tough penalties in the original Carr-Tracy bill were removed by its sponsors, state Rep. Joe Carr and state Sen. Jim Tracy, in response to the demands of the business lobby and the Haslam administration. We were left with a joke of a law. It does absolutely nothing to prevent hiring of illegal labor in this state and gives unscrupulous employers all the loopholes they need to keep doing what they’ve been doing.

    By the way, Gov. Haslam could issue an executive order requiring state agencies and employers contracting with the state to use E-Verify to catch and prevent hiring of illegal labor. He hasn’t. Neither did Bredesen before him (so much for the party of labor).

    Carr, Tracy, and Ketron, along with many of the other elected Republicans and Democrats, are complete sellouts on immigration enforcement, and they have lied about this hiring bill, now law. They continue to mislead Tennesseans about what this law does and about what they themselves did. Business as usual in your state legislature. Bought and paid for. Year after year. Tennessee is one of the worst I’ve seen. The lawmakers who passed this sham of a law should be ashamed of themselves. Alabama got it right. Some other states got it right or better. Puppets of the business lobby will not get it right.

    Carr has also removed the mandate (requirement language) in his SAVE (public-benefits eligibility) bill, which is still up for play next session. There is no bridge too far for Carr when it comes to gutting his bills. Shell game.

    My state senator, Bill Ketron, has himself demonstrated the same “flexibility” over many years. For one thing, he changed his driver’s license bill so that it is not English-only on the written exam but allows several other languages. If the purpose were “safety,” as he says and as many of us have advocated (one of my children was hit by an English-challenged illegal-alien driver), he would be trying to get the exam to match road signs: English only.

    Morrow, if you (or anyone) want to be on my e-list to get updates on immigration-enforcement bills and related lawmaker actions, e-mail me at tncoalition@hotmail.com. Some reporters get them.

  • Brittanicus

    HOW MANY ILLEGAL ALIENS ARE REALLY HERE?

    In all the talks and discussions about cutting back on the US treasury deficits, both parties are refusing to consider in these antagonistic debates, the fact that illegal aliens are compounding this major issue; the dollar amount to the $14.5 Trillion dollars, in this miserable meltdown we are facing. The Department of Homeland Security estimated in 2003, that 8 million to 12 million illegal aliens had settled in America and 700,000 new people enter illegally and stay each year. That’s across borders, by lying at entry ports as tourists to the official. These administration statistics are somewhat suspect and may represent major under counting, as they are fashioned by the very people accountable for the tsunami of illegal aliens entering our country. An alternative method is used here to estimate a range of numbers of illegal’s that is probable more levelheaded.

    The precise number of illegal’s entering the United States and the exact rate at which they cross our borders are unknown. Official government numbers are often hard to come by, remain intentionally concealed and are habitually sanitized, in the federal sector and states. This directed (CAPS) California for Population Stabilization to seriously question officials at the Census Bureau and (DOF) California Department of Finance, population figures on these numbers. As an alternative of the 8 million to 12 million illegal aliens these agencies and the liberal progressives claim to be here, there may actually be 20 million to 30 million or more? Nobody truly knows?

    The cost of harboring illegal immigrants in the United States is a staggering $113 billion a year; an average of $1,117 for every household in America and that’s just at the federal level. More truth and Statistics requested? Go to NumbersUSA or Judicial Watch.

    Freshman Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) added his name to 14 different bills on Thursday that would reduce overall immigration levels and work to end illegal immigration.

    * H.R.152 – a bill introduced by Rep. Ted Poe’s to improve border security
    * H.R.310 – a bill introduced by Rep. Sure Myrick that would prohibit federal funding to institutions of higher learning that provide in-state tuition to illegal aliens
    * H.R.691 – a bill introduced by Rep. Phil Gingrey that would prevent mortgages from going to illegal aliens
    * H.R.692 – a bill introduced by Rep. Phil Gingrey that would end Chain Migration
    * H.R.693 – a bill introduced by Rep. Phil Gingrey that would require all businesses to use E-Verify within 60 days
    * H.R.800 – a bill introduced by Rep. John Carter that would require all businesses to use E-Verify within 2 years
    *
    * H.R.1091, introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter that would require DHS to construct 350 additional miles of border fencing
    * H.R.1134 – a bill introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter that would prohibit federal funds being sent to sanctuary cities
    * H.R.1196 – a compilation bill introduced by Rep. Gary Miller, the LEAVE Act, that would end birthright citizenship, require nationwide use of E-Verify, improve interior enforcement, and discontinue rewards to illegal aliens
    * H.R.1459 – a bill introduced by Rep. Sue Myrick, the Scott Gardner Act, that would increase penalties for illegal aliens caught with a DWI
    * H.R.1698 – a bill introduced by Rep. Sue Myrick that would increase fines for employers that hire illegal aliens
    * H.R.1764 – a bill introduced by Rep. Charles Boustany that would end sanctuary cities
    * H.R. 2000 – a bill introduced by Rep. Heath Shuler, the SAVE Act, that would require all employers to use E-Verify and strengthen interior and border enforcement
    * H.R.2164 – a bill introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith, the Legal Workforce Act, which would require all employers to use E-Verify.

    American cannot afford anymore to support the poverty of other countries. The final straw was learning from the (FAIR) Federation of American Immigration reform that a volume amnesty would cost to process everybody with all the FBI background checks, health checks and the occupied paperwork over $2.5 trillion dollars. This is incorrigible when 13 million Americans are seeking work and this country, is still in a recession and unlikely to climb out of this $14.4 Trillion dollars financial chaos for years. Every American needs to rethink his vote for 2012. Not for Democrats, not for Liberals and not for Republicans, but for this Nation’s People under the banner of the TEA PARTY.

    This is the time to empty the overcrowded classrooms, full with the children of illegal aliens. Give hospitals breathing space saving billions of dollars from uninsured illegal immigrants, who knowingly enter by foot, vehicle, aircraft or boat into the United States. Entering illegally in a violation of our national sovereignty and should be a felony, for illegal aliens and those who knowingly break the rules, including businesses. Start the Attrition by enforcement programs such as E-Verify, Secure Communities and support Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Utah and States nationwide who have no choice but to restrict illegal immigrants through police laws as their welfare programs are being sucked dry.

    Fearful illegal nationals are bypassing Arizona and loading their possessions, heading for Sanctuary States as California, Nevada, Illinois, Washington state and many counties within particular States.

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