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Governor Opposes Directing Tennessee Cops to Check People’s Immigration Status

Gov. Bill Haslam says he isn’t swayed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that it’s OK for local law enforcement to ask people to prove their citizenship during routine police stops.

Haslam has stood in the way of legislative attempts to bring an Arizona-style immigration law to Tennessee and instead ushered in other laws to discourage undocumented workers from settling in the Volunteer State.

“My concern with an Arizona-type law has always been the position it puts local law enforcement in, of having to make those kind of judgements,” Haslam told reporters Tuesday in Nashville.

Instead, he prefers policing immigrants by trying to stop them from finding work or by denying them most public benefits.

In a mixed ruling this week, the nation’s highest court struck down three of four aspects of the controversial 2010 Arizona immigration law. But the court unanimously upheld a key provision, which allows state and local law enforcement to check the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest if there is reasonable suspicion he or she is an illegal immigrant.

While the court confirmed the legality of local governments taking on immigration enforcement, it warned that the Arizona law could find itself in other legal hot water for other constitutional challenges. Critics say that could include a violation of civil liberties, such as using racial profiling.

Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, led the charge to put a similar provision into Tennessee law in 2011 and said he’d like to consider taking another stab at it in 2013.

Carr was stonewalled by the Haslam administration when he tried, though, and instead focused on other bills focused on making Tennessee unfriendly to undocumented immigrants.

One proposal requires businesses and governments to check their employees’ citizenship status either by running their workers’ identity through the federal E-Verify system or by maintaining workers’ hiring records, such as a copy of their drivers’ license. Another measure, known as the SAVE Act, requires people who apply for most public aid to prove their citizenship. Both measures are now law.

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SCOTUS Immigration Ruling Could Prompt New Legislation Push Next Year

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a key part of Arizona’s controversial immigration law is essentially a green light to Tennessee lawmakers to enact something similar here, state Rep. Joe Carr said Monday.

The Lascassas Republican says he’ll likely use the ruling to refuel his drive toward making Tennessee an inhospitable place to foreigners who lack explicit U.S. government approval to be in this country.

In a decision released Monday, the Supreme Court struck down three provisions of the 2010 immigration law. However, the court upheld the element that allows state and local law enforcement agents to check people for immigration status. Tennessee Republicans like Carr have said they’d like to see something similar implemented here.

“The mandatory nature of the status checks does not interfere with the federal immigration scheme,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in delivering the court’s opinion. “Consultation between federal and state officials is an important feature of the immigration system. In fact, Congress has encouraged the sharing of information about possible immigration violations. …The federal scheme thus leaves room for a policy requiring state officials to contact (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) as a routine matter.”

Since it is clear now that the Supreme Court believes state and local police can make inquiries into a person’s immigration status as a matter of routine, then Tennessee ought to consider “expanding the authority of law enforcement” to enable that here, said Carr.

“What we want is a coherent, cohesive strategy for the problem Tennessee has that the federal government refused to address,” said Carr. “We really have done a good job… We want to make sure that there isn’t something left for us to do.”

However, the Arizona law has yet to go into effect. And that means future legal challenges could be in store — in particular, claims that police are engaging in racial profiling, said Gregg Ramos, an attorney and activist for immigrant rights in Tennessee.

“I think that alone should give Rep. Carr pause on whether we need to enter the fray here in Tennessee to do anything more than we’re doing here now,” he said, adding that talk from Carr about taking state immigration laws any further amounts to “fearmongering.”

“That’s his political issue,” Ramos said. “He’s chosen to remain on the front pages to appear relevant. Let me make it clear: Tennessee’s situation is nowhere near the situation that Arizona has encountered and is encountering.”

Tennessee already has rules on the books to allow authorities to determine whether someone arrested is a citizen, although Carr pushed to strengthen those laws in 2011. The move stalled because of its hefty $5 million price tag. Also, many of those queries were already being forwarded to ICE.

Inspired in part by Arizona’s controversial immigration law, Carr and Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, sponsored legislation requiring businesses and government agencies to use E-Verify or any other system to ensure that all new employees are legal U.S. residents, and require people who apply for most public aid to prove their citizenship. Both measures, passed in 2011 and 2012, respectively, became law.

An estimated 140,000 unauthorized immigrants, about 2.2 percent of the state’s population, called Tennessee home in 2010, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

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Few Punished Under Existing TN Law Targeting Employers of Illegal Immigrants

Many politicians across the state are making the case for an Arizona-style crackdown on illegal immigration here in Tennessee.

But there’s also general agreement that a law the Legislature already overwhelmingly approved to punish businesses that hire undocumented workers is being underutilized.

Just days after the Obama administration announced it would sue Arizona over its controversial new state-level illegal-immigration enforcement law, a leading Tennessee Democrat filed a complaint with state labor officials alleging that managers of a high-profile, government-subsidized Nashville construction project were employing illegal aliens.

Officials are still reviewing Rep. Mike Turner’s allegation to determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed with a full investigation, said Department of Labor spokesman Jeff Hentschel. But if the past is any indication, the chances the Old Hickory lawmaker’s complaint will result in any action against the employer appear slim.

The Labor Standards Division received 2,111 workplace complaints in Tennessee between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010, mostly for child labor and wage law violations.

But only two of the total number of complaints the department received addressed businesses employing illegal aliens, said Hentschel.

Since the state’s Illegal Alien Employment Act took effect on Jan. 1, 2008, the department has received a total of 28 complaints alleging companies employed illegal immigrants.

Fifteen of those allegations were pursued. In only two complaints since the law took effect 31 months ago has the department sought to punish a company for employing illegal immigrants. In one case, an employer quickly pleaded guilty and fired suspected illegal immigrants before the state could suspend the company’s business licenses. A second company is currently awaiting disciplinary action.

Officials at the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development claim they have only limited tools and restricted legal authority to sniff out workers who are in the country illegally, or to prove a case against an employer who hires them.

Turner, who voted against a resolution declaring support for Arizona’s immigration law during the last legislative session, said in his complaint he had obtained inside information that the construction company was employing illegal aliens.

“While I am not employed at the job site and do not have the ability to personally verify these allegations, I know the persons who have witnessed the employment of illegal aliens at the Convention Center job site and know that they are credible individuals,” the Tennessee House Democratic caucus chairman said in his complaint filed July 15.

Up until July 2008, the labor department essentially had nothing to do with immigration law enforcement.

Under the Illegal Alien Employment Act in Tennessee — approved with no opposition on June 7, 2007 in the House, and with only Nashville Democrat Douglas Henry voting “No” June 12, 2007 in the Senate — the department can take enforcement action against Tennessee businesses.

However, formal complaints against employers, or requests for investigations, must be filed only by designated government employees or elected officials.

The result is the department’s enforcement of the spirit of the law is seriously lacking, argues Murfreesboro Republican Bill Ketron, a primary sponsor of the act, which he said was patterned after similar bills in other states trying to “stop the flow” of money and jobs to illegal immigrants.

Sen. Ketron suggests labor department bureaucrats take some investigative initiative, “multitask” and dig deeper to find immigrant workers when conducting other routine inspections, instead of waiting for complaints to land on their desks.

“How hard is it before you leave to say, ‘Can I see your documentation on all your employees?’” asked Ketron, who, along with Republican Reps. Joe Carr and Tony Shipley, is in Arizona to deliver the Tennessee General Assembly’s vote of confidence for the state in its legal confrontation with the federal government.

“That’s the frustrating part about bureaucracy in state government,” he added.

Indeed, many illegal immigrants working in Tennessee go undetected, and those who employ them unpunished, acknowledge labor officers. A company that provides the state with information indicating employees filled out all the required I-9 employment forms will face no punishment if they can reasonably show they didn’t know illegal aliens were working on the job, said Dan Bailey, the Department of Labor’s general counsel.

Bailey said part of the problem is that the department lacks access to federal immigration records, without which state officials are unable to connect the dots and determine who is or is not in the country legally.

The department can only check to make sure forms were completed correctly for every worker, he said — after that, the business is in the clear.

“We cannot do anything until a complaint is filed,” said Bailey.“It is a complaint-driven system. And then when we get a complaint, we cannot respond to profiling issues.”

“We can’t remove (illegal immigrants). We can’t fine them. We can’t do anything.  But if we know there’s an undocumented worker, we can report it to ICE,” he said, referring to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, which is chiefly responsible for immigration laws.

Press Releases

Ramsey Unhappy with AZ Immigration Ruling

Press Release from Ron Ramsey for Governor; July 29, 2010:

NASHVILLE, TN – Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, the conservative candidate for Governor of Tennessee reacted today to the news that key provisions of Arizona’s illegal immigration bill, SB 1070, was struck down in a U.S. District Court by Clinton appointee Judge Susan Bolton. Just last week, Ramsey held a press conference in Tennessee’s state capitol building in Nashville to publicly proclaim support for Arizona and her illegal immigration measure while simultaneously calling upon Tennessee’s appointed Attorney General, Bob Cooper, to join with 9 other states and allow Tennessee to file an amicus – ‘friend of the court’ – brief in support of Arizona in this proceeding. Ramsey also declared that when he is elected Governor, he will enact a law similar to Arizona’s to address the crucial issue of illegal immigration within the state of Tennessee.

Ramsey had the following statement in reaction to the court’s ruling:

“I am severely disappointed with the preliminary injunction handed down today in Phoenix, Arizona and I eagerly await the appeal promised by the sponsor of the legislation. I stand with Tennesseans in steadfast support of Governor Jan Brewer, the Arizona legislature and the people of Arizona who are daily suffering under the scourge of illegal immigration at the hands of drug cartels and violent illegal aliens. I reiterate today that I remain in favor of a similar law for the state of Tennessee and when I become Governor we will have an illegal immigration law like Arizona’s to address the very serious issue of illegal immigration within our state. It’s common sense and the vast majority of Tennesseans are in agreement with Arizona on this issue,” stated Ramsey.

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Lt. Guv: TN AG Should Back AZ

Ron Ramsey is making another run at convincing the Tennessee attorney general to defend a state-level legislative prerogative against interference by the federal government.

During the Tennessee General Assembly’s regular session earlier this year, Ramsey tried unsuccessfully to persuade state Attorney General Robert Cooper to join a number of other states in challenging elements of the federal health-care overhaul that Congressional Democrats and the Obama administration pushed through last winter.

On Friday, Ramsey — a Blountville Republican seeking to become the GOP’s pick next month to run against Democrat Mike McWherter in the November general election — urged Cooper to file a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Arizona’s new crackdown on illegal-immigrants, scheduled to take effect July 29.

Tennessee lawmakers approved two immigration-related bills earlier this year. One was a joint resolution in the House of Representatives congratulating Arizona for passing the new illegal immigration law. The other allows local law enforcement to verify a suspect or inmate’s citizenship status and report illegal aliens to the federal government.

The U.S. Justice Department announced a few weeks ago that it will challenge the Arizona law, which allows state and local police to check for citizenship status while enforcing other laws — including minor traffic violations — if there is a reasonable suspicion that an individual is illegally in the country.

Justice department lawyers say the federal government, not the states, is solely responsible for enforcing the country’s immigration policies.  A U.S. attorney told a federal judge during a hearing on the matter in Phoenix Thursday that “regulation of immigration is unquestionably, exclusively, a federal power.”

Ramsey and other Tennessee politicians who say they support Arizona’s efforts argue that indeed it is the federal government’s job to control movement of foreigners into the United States. But the feds are failing to live up to that responsibility, they say, and therefore the states have been put in the position of having to take enforcement matters into their own hands.

“This is just another symptom of the disease that the federal government, not only in this case, is paying no attention to the citizens but its actually suing the citizens of the United States, suing Arizona for simply enforcing the law,” Ramsey told reporters during a press conference Friday morning.

Illegal immigration is as important to Tennessee as it is to Arizona, Ramsey added. Tennessee highways act as a corridor for those immigrants to pass through and opens the state up to potential drug trafficking, said the lieutenant governor.

Nine other states have filed amicus briefs weighing in on the case.

“We rarely, if ever, use resources to participate in a trail court proceeding in another state,” Cooper wrote in an emailed statement. “Like most other Attorneys General, we are watching the case closely without actively participating, and we expect that the trial court in this matter will provide valuable legal analysis and insight.”

Press Releases

Ramsey Asks AG for Amicus Supporting AZ

Letter from Lt. Governor and Republican Candidate for Governor, Ron Ramsey; July 23, 2010:

Dear General Cooper:

As you are aware, on July 6, 2010, the United States Department of Justice filed suit in the United States District Court, District of Arizona, to enjoin enforcement of Arizona S.B. 1070 (Laws 2010, Chapter 113), as amended by H.B. 2162, and to challenge the constitutionality of that law. It appears to be the Department’s position that the power to regulate immigration is vested exclusively in the federal government and that the State of Arizona possesses minimal, if any, authority to adopt or enforce state policies or programs designed to combat the problem of illegal immigration within its own borders. If the federal government will not or cannot stem the tide of illegal immigration in Arizona, then the citizens and taxpayers of Arizona are helpless to protect themselves.

Although this litigation relates specifically to legislation enacted by the State of Arizona, its outcome will likely impact the safety and economic wellbeing of all the other states, including Tennessee. Acknowledging that reality, on July 14, 2010, an amicus curiae brief supporting the constitutionality of the Arizona law was filed by the attorneys general of Michigan, Florida, Alabama, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Virgina. On July 21, 2010, at least eighty-one members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives jointly filed an amicus curiae brief supporting the Arizona law.

In overwhelming numbers, Tennesseans are gravely concerned. I urge you, as the citizens’ attorney to file your own amicus curiae brief (or, if possible, to join with the nine states that have jointly filed) to ensure Tennessee’s voice will be heard loud and clear by the federal courts on these critically important issues. Please do your utmost to ensure that Tennessee retains its sovereign right to combat the problem of illegal immigration within its own borders.


Ron Ramsey

Lieutenant Governor

Press Releases

Ramsey Denounces Obama Administration’s Decision to Sue Arizona Immigration Law

Press Release from Ron Ramsey for Governor; July 7, 2010:

NASHVILLE, TN – Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey released the following statement in response to the news that the Department of Justice, under the Obama Administration, will sue the state of Arizona over their illegal immigration law:

“Just when you think it unfathomable that Washington can get any crazier, they announce news highlighting just how out of touch they are with mainstream Americans.

“I’ve said before that I fully back Arizona’s efforts to enforce immigration law and secure their borders from the scourge of violence and crime that illegal immigration is causing in their state. In fact, when I am elected the next conservative Governor of Tennessee, I will enact a similar measure.

“The primary function of the federal government is to protect its citizens from foreign threats and if President Obama won’t act, then Governors across this nation will act to protect our citizens.

“We are a nation originally comprised of immigrants and while I support legal immigration, we must never forget that we are a nation of laws and they must be upheld. Those seeking to come to our country through legal avenues are always welcome in America and the state of Tennessee,” stated Ramsey.

According to a recent public poll issued by Rasmussen, sixty percent (60%) of Tennessee voters favor an immigration law in their state similar to the one recently passed in Arizona.

Press Releases

U.S. Justice Dept. Sues Arizona Over Immigration Law

Press Release from the United States Department of Justice, July 6, 2010:

Citing Conflict with Federal Law, Department of Justice Challenges Arizona Immigration Law

WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice challenged the state of Arizona’s recently passed immigration law, S.B. 1070, in federal court today.

In a brief filed in the District of Arizona, the Department said S.B. 1070 unconstitutionally interferes with the federal government’s authority to set and enforce immigration policy, explaining that “the Constitution and federal law do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local immigration policies throughout the country.” A patchwork of state and local policies would seriously disrupt federal immigration enforcement. Having enacted its own immigration policy that conflicts with federal immigration law, Arizona “crossed a constitutional line.”

The Department’s brief said that S.B. 1070 will place significant burdens on federal agencies, diverting their resources away from high-priority targets, such as aliens implicated in terrorism, drug smuggling, and gang activity, and those with criminal records. The law’s mandates on Arizona law enforcement will also result in the harassment and detention of foreign visitors and legal immigrants, as well as U.S. citizens, who cannot readily prove their lawful status.

In declarations filed with the brief, Arizona law enforcement officials, including the Chiefs of Police of Phoenix and Tucson, said that S.B. 1070 will hamper their ability to effectively police their communities. The chiefs said that victims of or witnesses to crimes would be less likely to contact or cooperate with law enforcement officials and that implementation of the law would require them to reassign officers from critical areas such as violent crimes, property crimes, and home invasions.

The Department filed the suit after extensive consultation with Arizona officials, law enforcement officers and groups, and civil rights advocates. The suit was filed on behalf of the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of State, which share responsibilities in administering federal immigration law.

“Arizonans are understandably frustrated with illegal immigration, and the federal government has a responsibility to comprehensively address those concerns,” Attorney General Holder said. “But diverting federal resources away from dangerous aliens such as terrorism suspects and aliens with criminal records will impact the entire country’s safety. Setting immigration policy and enforcing immigration laws is a national responsibility. Seeking to address the issue through a patchwork of state laws will only create more problems than it solves.”

“With the strong support of state and local law enforcement, I vetoed several similar pieces of legislation as Governor of Arizona because they would have diverted critical law enforcement resources from the most serious threats to public safety and undermined the vital trust between local jurisdictions and the communities they serve,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said. “We are actively working with members of Congress from both parties to comprehensively reform our immigration system at the federal level because this challenge cannot be solved by a patchwork of inconsistent state laws, of which this is one. While this bipartisan effort to reform our immigration system progresses, the Department of Homeland Security will continue to enforce the laws on the books by enhancing border security and removing criminal aliens from this country.”

The Department has requested a preliminary injunction to enjoin enforcement of the law, arguing that the law’s operation will cause irreparable harm.

“Arizona impermissibly seeks to regulate immigration by creating an Arizona-specific immigration policy that is expressly designed to rival or supplant that of the federal government. As such, Arizona’s immigration policy exceeds a state’s role with respect to aliens, interferes with the federal government’s balanced administration of the immigration laws, and critically undermines U.S. foreign policy objectives. S.B. 1070 does not simply seek to provide legitimate support to the federal government’s immigration policy, but instead creates an unprecedented independent immigration scheme that exceeds constitutional boundaries,” the Department said in its brief.