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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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E-Verify Law Gets Mixed Reaction from Businesses

Tennesseans taking jobs in both the private and public sectors must now prove their citizenship to their new employers thanks to a new state immigration law that took effect this month.

So far, business advocates say they’ve gotten a variety of feedback from employers about the new requirements which came at the hands of a Legislature that originally sought to impose a bundle of illegal immigration reforms before settling on the new hiring regulations.

Some larger companies have opted to continue using their current system of record keeping to satisfy the new law while some small businesses have said they like the idea behind the regulation but using the E-Verify system to weed out undocumented immigrants is cumbersome.

“It’s kind of a mixture,” said Deb Woolley, president of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who added most businesses have had trouble navigating the electronic E-Verify system at first. “But once you got there and got familiar with it, it was pretty good. I guess it was a learning curve.”

Under the Tennessee Lawful Employment Act that kicked in Jan. 1, businesses and governments are required to either verify their new hires’ citizenship through the federal E-Verify system or maintain records like driver’s licenses or birth certificates that show the employees are lawfully in the country.

The new mandate comes in phases. Beginning this month, companies with at least 500 employees and state and local governments must either use the E-Verify system or maintain their own records.

Businesses with more than 200 employees will join those ranks beginning July 1, and small companies with more than six employees must adhere to the new requirements by Jan. 1, 2013.

The Department of Human Resources is also “strongly encouraging” all state agencies to use E-Verify in the new year instead of opting to collect employee documents, according to the department’s spokesman.

Tennessee’s unemployment rate is down to 9.1 percent but is still higher than the nation’s 8.6 percent unemployment rate.

Jim Brown, state director of the Tennessee chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, said he’s also hearing a variety of feedback from his members about the new law. But by and large, members of his organization won’t be required to follow the procedures until next year.

“We feel like when we get to 2013, we’re going to get a lot more phone calls: ‘What do we need to be doing?’” said Brown, who advocated against early versions of law as it made its way through Capitol Hill last year where it passed almost unanimously. “We’ve said all along the illegal immigration problem needs to be addressed.”

Organizations violating the new law can be fined between $500 and $2,500 for each unverified worker, depending on the number of violations the Department of Labor issues to that company.

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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. is a nonprofit news agency supported by generous donors like you.

Press Releases

Rep. Carr: E-Verify to ‘Ensure Integrity’ of Workforce

Press Release from the House Republican Caucus, June 8, 2011:

Representative Joe Carr (R-Lascassas) today released the following statement regarding the signing of the E-Verify legislation:

“I am pleased that the Governor has signed this important legislation into law. Our citizens demanded reform on this issue, and this legislation is a huge step in the right direction.

The nation is waking up to the fact the federal government has fallen down on the job when it comes to border security. Tennessee is leading the way, and I was proud to sponsor this landmark legislation. This simple solution will ensure the integrity of our nation’s workforce.”

On the next to last day of the Session, the House of Representatives took a strong stand against illegal immigration in Tennessee by passing legislation authorizing the use of the federal E-Verify system by Tennessee companies. The bill passed by a unanimous 96-0 vote.

The bill requires all employers with six or more employees to participate. Businesses are provided two options: the E-Verify program, which has a 99.7% accuracy rate, or the presentation of a valid Tennessee driver’s license to check the lawful status of an individual.

Press Releases

Harwell’s End-of-Session Recap

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, Posted the Following Letter on Facebook, June 3, 2011:

The first session of the 107th General Assembly adjourned late Saturday night, May 21st, after we aggressively worked the last several days to finish our business. We have a long list of accomplishments to point to, proving that it does matter who governs.

Governor Bill Haslam, Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey and I were united in our belief that in order to make government sustainable, we had to transform the way we did business. We made significant progress this year reducing the size of government, paving the way for job creation, and reforming education.

In addition, we adjourned earlier than we have in the past couple of decades. Compared to last year, our early adjournment saved taxpayers nearly half a million dollars in legislative operational expenses. We have shown that we take the responsibility of governing very seriously, and we will stay true to our principles as we do so.

Our top priority was a balanced budget with no new taxes or tax increases. This year’s budget is $1.2 billion less than last year’s. This includes $82.2 million in specific recurring reductions. The budget also fully funds education, and tucks money away in the Rainy Day Fund for the first time in three years, raising it to $327.7 million.

We had many accomplishments this year, including but not limited to the following:

  • Tort reform – Republicans have also fought for years to see passage of comprehensive tort reform legislation, and this year we were successful in passing a bill that will pave the way for jobs in Tennessee. This legislation will create an environment of predictability and certainty for businesses as they look to expand.
  • Tenure Reform – Our goal is to make sure our teachers are equipped with the best tools possible to educate Tennessee students. We want an effective teacher in front of every classroom, and we want those who are excelling to be rewarded. This proposal is absolutely key to education reform.
  • Charter Schools – Charter schools have a proven track record in Tennessee, and I am delighted that we are giving this opportunity to even more students. Every student in the state of Tennessee deserves the very best we have to offer in education, and charter schools play a huge role in reaching that goal.
  • Collaborative Conferencing – The legislature also acted on a bill that repealed the Education Professional Negotiations Act and moved to a collaborative bargaining process that will open a direct line of communication between teachers, administrators and school boards.
  • Reduction of Meth Amphetamines – We are always trying to stay one step ahead of those who manufacture meth, which is destroying our communities. Utilizing this tracking system will curb the ability of criminals to obtain key ingredients for meth, while not increasing the burden to consumers who need pseudoephedrine.
  • Election Integrity – To ensure the integrity of our elections, the legislature passed a bill to require photo identification to vote. This measure will reduce voter fraud, and make every vote count.
  • SJR 127 – The constitutional amendment will restore the right of Tennesseans to repeal or enact laws governing abortions within federal limits through their elected representatives.
  • E-Verify – This bill helps to ensure that those working in Tennessee are here legally. Illegal immigration has a large financial impact on taxpayers, and this legislation will address this problem.
  • Elimination of a dozen subcommittees – The principles of a limited and more efficient government were a priority this year. To that end, I eliminated a dozen subcommittees that I felt were duplicitous, a reform that helped us to work more efficiently.
  • Elimination of redundant committees – In times of economic hardship, taxpayers demand and deserve state government to be streamlined. To that end, we eliminated 11 “oversight” committees that duplicated the work of standing committees, saving taxpayer dollars.

We started this year with a Republican governor, and strong majorities in both chambers–for the first time in the history of our state. We set forth ambitious proposals for job creation and better schools, and due to the hard work of each state representative, we have done that. This was a very successful year.

As always, I appreciate your support. It was an honor to serve as Speaker of the House, and experience that was both humbling and rewarding. Thank you for placing your trust in me, and let me know if I can ever do anything to assist you.



Press Releases

Carr: SCOTUS Ruling on E-Verify Bodes Well for TN

Press Release from the House Republican Caucus, May 26, 2011:

Representative Joe Carr Releases Statement on U.S. Supreme Court’s E-Verify Decision

(May 26, 2011, NASHVILLE) – On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Arizona’s use of the federal E-Verify program is constitutional.

The State created the law back in 2007. It allows Arizona to suspend the licenses of businesses that “intentionally or knowingly” violate work-eligibility verification requirements. Companies would be required under that law to use E-Verify, a federal database to check the documentation of current and prospective employees.

Last week, Tennessee passed similar legislation that mandates all companies in Tennessee to use the E-Verify program or check drivers’ licenses of potential employees.

After learning of the decision, Representative Joe Carr (R—Lascassas) released the following statement:

“I am extremely encouraged by today’s Supreme Court ruling. The E-Verify program is an efficient way for businesses and government to partner up and verify the eligibility of every worker.

“The nation is waking up to the fact the federal government has fallen down on the job when it comes to border security. Today’s decision paves the way for States to move forward with a simple solution that will help ensure the integrity of our nation’s workforce.”

The case is Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting (09-115).

Press Releases

GOP Lawmakers File Illegal Immigration Bills

Press Release from The Tennessee House Republican Caucus, Feb. 16, 2011:

NASHVILLE, February 16, 2010) – Flanked by Senate Republican leaders Bill Ketron, Jack Johnson, and Jim Tracy, Representative Joe Carr (R–Lascassas) today unveiled a comprehensive plan to combat illegal immigration in Tennessee.

The plan calls for three distinct principles to address different areas of the law that need to be strengthened in order for private businesses and State and local law enforcement agencies to have the authority to effectively deal with illegal immigration.

“I believe this plan, utilizing three separate pieces of legislation, is the best way to bring a Tennessee solution to a Tennessee problem that has been mandated by 72 percent of Tennesseans,” said Carr, the Chairman of the House Illegal Immigration Task Force.

“By taking a comprehensive approach that targets three distinct areas of the law, we can bring the reform demanded by so many of our citizens. I believe this plan will place Tennessee at the forefront of State efforts to combat illegal immigration and provide a blueprint for other States to follow.”

At a press briefing held in the Capitol this afternoon, Rep. Carr discussed the details of the legislative strategy while each Senator responsible for the legislation detailed the plans for their respective bills.

Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Rep. Carr authored the “Lawful Immigration Enforcement Act”. This legislation says:

  • In the course of a lawful stop, State and local law enforcement must determine the legal status of the individual in question.
  • Upon determination of the status and if the individual is determined to have unlawful status, authorities must detain and turn over the individual to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) and Rep. Carr introduced the “Eligibility Verification for Entitlements Act.” This bill provides:

  • State agencies are authorized to verify the lawful status of an alien in Tennessee.
  • Any person found to be an unlawful alien is prohibited from receiving any benefits.

Senator Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) and Rep. Carr wrote the “Tennessee Lawful Employment Act”. This act will:

  • Require all employers–both public and private–to submit the names and Social Security numbers of employees hired after October 1, 2011 to the federal Department of Homeland Security for verification.
  • The “E-Verify” system is 97.4 percent accurate.
  • Currently, there are approximately 4,000 Tennessee businesses participating in the E-Verify system.

Each of these will be filed in the House and Senate today.