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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.