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Turner’s Convention Center Illegal Immigrant Complaint Still Unresolved

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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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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Press Releases

Democrat Stewart Criticizes AZ-Bound GOP Lawmakers

Press Release from Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Belvidere, July 29, 2010:

Republican Lawmakers Leave Districts in Crisis for Political Pandering Trip to Arizona

Sen. Stewart calls on Republicans to focus on issues in Tennessee, not Arizona

NASHVILLE – Amid soaring unemployment in their districts and pleas from voters to focus on jobs and the economy, Tennessee Republican lawmakers are flying to Arizona on Friday to present a do-nothing resolution to Arizona’s governor.

“Apparently Tennessee Republicans think political junkets to Arizona are more important than unemployment in their own districts,” said state Sen. Eric Stewart of Belvidere. “I get angry when lawmakers take the people they represent for fools and just downright lie to them about the facts.

“Make no mistake: this trip is all about politics and pandering. The resolution commends Arizona’s immigration law, but does absolutely nothing to address Tennessee’s illegal immigration issues.”

Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, Rep. Joe Carr of Lascassas and Rep. Tony Shipley of Kingsport will be among Republican lawmakers going to Arizona on Friday to present a nonbinding resolution that cost Tennessee taxpayers $500.

The trip comes a week after the Department of Labor revealed that unemployment rates in 72 Tennessee counties increased in June – including all of the counties that Ketron, Carr and Shipley represent.

Ketron’s district includes Marshall County, which has the state’s second-highest county unemployment rate at 16.7 percent, and the city of Columbia, which has the highest unemployment rate of any Tennessee city at 16.8 percent.

‘Tennessee Republicans like to talk big about illegal immigration, but they always side with their big-business buddies and deep-pocketed donors when Tennessee Democrats propose doing something about it,” Stewart said.

Stewart pointed out that Gov. Phil Bredesen has sent more than 1,000 National Guard troops to assist Border Patrol agents in securing our nation’s borders. Tennessee Democrats in the state legislature also attempted in 2007 to pass a law that would have required government agencies and private employers with public contracts to check employees’ immigration status against a national registry, harshly penalized those employers who still hired illegal immigrants and cut off social service payments to illegal immigrants.

The measure passed the Democrat-controlled House unanimously, but died in a Republican-controlled Senate committee when not a single Republican voted in favor of the bill.

“Tennessee Republicans are more interested in protecting their big-business buddies than they are in protecting our border, our jobs and our economic security,” Stewart said. “Republicans have a choice: Join Democrats in fixing Tennessee’s illegal immigration problem by punishing big businesses that exploit cheap labor at the expense of Tennesseans, or continue to waste taxpayer dollars and pander to people they don’t represent.”

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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.

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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.

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Bredesen Says Immigration Bill Not Unreasonable

Gov. Phil Bredesen said he thought “long and hard” about whether to endorse a controversial piece of immigration legislation passed by the Tennessee General Assembly this past session. But ultimately he made a “judgment call” and signed the bill.

Bredesen repeatedly used the phrase “throwing gasoline on the fire” during a press conference Tuesday to describe the political hot potato immigration issues have become.

However, the governor said he believes this bill, HB670, is not especially harmful in his view.

The bill requires local law enforcement officials to take steps to verify the citizenship status of individuals who are detained and report to federal authorities when they find someone who may be in the country illegally.

Specifically, the bill calls for the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission to establish a standard written procedure for verifying citizenship and report those who may be in violation of the federal Immigration and Naturalization Act. The legislature approved the bill after a conference committee produced a measure following lengthy debate.

Bredesen said the decision for him came down to two matters. He said the process of proving citizenship is not unreasonable and that the bill only reinforces the principle behind efforts already in place in major cities in the state that he has supported.

The bill had drawn objection from organizations as divergent as civil liberties groups who are concerned about racial profiling and local police who don’t want to be burdened by having to enforce federal law.

“Symbolically, I didn’t like it,” Bredesen said of the bill. “I didn’t think it was necessary. There’s nothing in that bill that sheriffs can’t do today if they want to do. I didn’t think it was unreasonable. I think it would just be throwing gasoline on the fire to veto it, and I did what I thought was best.”

The governor drew on his personal experience from when he lived for awhile in England. If he had been arrested for something there, he said it would have been reasonable for a police officer to ask to see his passport or visa. He said that while he is very sensitive about such issues, it is not an unreasonable set of requests to ask for the verification.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee had written to Bredesen in opposition to the bill, saying the legislation “effectively creates a police state by requiring individuals (ie., all Latino residents and others who look and sound foreign) to carry documentation at all times so that they can prove they are in this country legally in case they are arrested.”

The ACLU letter also said requiring local authorities to conduct the process “is a recipe for racial profiling.”

The issue has grown in Tennessee in recent years as immigration has soared, including illegal immigration.

Local law enforcement officers found themselves in position of releasing detainees who would re-offend and have members of the public ask why illegal immigrants who had been in custody were released. Efforts to establish new ties with federal authorities ensued to help identify illegal immigrants, but the matter has always been subject to resources to handle the job properly.

Bredesen said he was aware of the political ramifications of the issue in an election year.

“In the end, if it was something I thought was truly unreasonable, I would have vetoed it, but when I looked at it and said, look, it’s what the big four are already doing, it’s something every sheriff can do today if they want to, there’s nothing about that they can’t do today, why throw gasoline on the fire? I really believe this whole thing has got to be dampened.”

He added that he had said as much recently in a speech to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce regarding issues such as English-only.

“We’ve got to grow beyond this stuff that’s going to really hurt us,” Bredesen said. “It was a judgment call.”

Asked if he had considered allowing the bill to become law without his signature, which is an option for a governor, Bredesen said he has “done that once in a while.”

“I always feel badly about doing that,” Bredesen said, adding that when the issue is a resolution instead of a bill, his signature doesn’t much matter.

“This is one I thought I should step up to,” said the governor. “I think you will find on almost all the bills, I have stepped up to either sign or veto, just because that’s pretty much my job.”