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Outlines of Immigration Debates Taking Shape

In a recent segment of Nashville NewsChannel 5’s Inside Politics, Sen. Bill Ketron and Rep. Joe Carr said the Legislature will “very likely” adopt a measure that mirrors Arizona’s controversial immigration law, cracking down on undocumented immigrants by checking their legal status at traffic stops.

Hosted by political reporter Pat Nolan, the 30-minute show previewed some of the facets and flashpoints that are likely during 2011 legislative policy deliberations, including the tension between enforcement by the federal government and states’ rights, the lack of detail on how much illegal immigration costs the state of Tennessee and fuzzy projections about how many people are living in the state illegally.

Ketron and Carr, Republicans from Rutherford County, say the key this year will be passing a bill that can meet constitutional muster despite the fact that Arizona’s version of the law is currently tied up in federal courts.

Between taking jobs away from citizens and reaping the benefits of public services like health care and education — as well as taking up space in prisons — immigrants in the state illegally are draining Tennessee’s resources, both Ketron and Carr argued.

“We feel like it’s a big enough issue. The federal government is not going to deal with it,” said Ketron, Senate Republican Caucus chairman. “It’s an issue that creates issues for us at the state level at a time when our budget is really hurting. We’re $1.4 billion in debt.”

However, another guest on the show, Nashville attorney and activist Gregg Ramos, spoke in opposition to an Arizona-style bill and in rebuttal to what he characterized as misinformation being spread about the effects and impacts of illegal immigration.

Ramos pointed to a 2007 study that suggested illegal immigrants living in Tennessee have access to few public services and thus have a limited impact on state government finances.

The study, by then-Comptroller John Morgan, a Democrat who later became Gov. Phil Bredesen’s chief of staff and is now the chancellor for the Tennessee Board of Regents, did indicate those who are incarcerated create a heavier burden on local and state budgets.

Ramos accused Carr and Ketron of blowing any issues of concern that might exist entirely out of proportion. “What these gentlemen have been doing, with all due respect, is magnifying the problem and taking a lot of things out of context,” he said.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, between 100,000 and 160,000 illegal immigrants reside in Tennessee, making up about 2 percent of the state population.

“The fact that they came here illegally and reside here illegally, no matter how you talk about the economics of the issue, it doesn’t deal with the fact that you’ve got a substantial portion of people in the state of Tennessee breaking the law by being here, and that needs to be addressed,” Carr said.

Both lawmakers are expected to support multiple pieces of legislation targeting undocumented immigrants, including a bill that would require that driver’s license exams be administered only in English and another to mandate voters show a photo ID at the ballot box.

Carr is also hinting that he and other lawmakers may press for Tennessee to join other states in challenging or attempting to end “birthright citizenship” under the United States Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

Press Releases

TN Democrats: Republicans Should Return Brody Contributions

Press Release from the Tennessee Democratic Party, September 28, 2010

Tennessee Republican Campaign Contributor Accused of Massive Fraud

Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester said Republican lawmakers should return any campaign contributions they received from fellow Republican Ira Brody in light of allegations he bilked hundreds of millions of dollars from a former employer.

Brody had been a candidate for state treasurer after Republicans gained control of the General Assembly in November 2008. According to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, Brody and his family contributed tens of thousands of dollars to Tennessee Republican candidates over the last few years.

“I don’t see how any lawmaker could keep that cash knowing it may have been stolen,” Forrester said. “Tennesseans deserve to know their elected officials are not using stolen money to finance their campaigns. Any lawmaker who took a campaign contribution from Mr. Brody and his family should give it back immediately.”

Nashville television station WTVF Channel 5 reports that Brody has been accused of a massive fraud that “destroyed” Concord Capital Management by looting the company’s assets of “hundreds of millions of dollars.” The same report indicates Brody and his family appear to have given more than $200,000 to Republican candidates, including the Tennessee Republican Party.

According to state records and the Federal Election Commission, U.S. Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander received campaign contributions from Brody, as did state Sens. Ron Ramsey, Jim Tracy, Ken Yager and Delores Gresham along with state Reps. Joe Carr and Donna Rowland. Murfreesboro state House candidate Rick Womick also received campaign contribution from Brody and his family.

“Mr. Brody evidently tried to buy the state treasurer’s job with ill-gotten gains,” Forrester said. “We are fortunate he is not in charge of Tennessee’s revenues now.

“Most Tennessee voters cannot afford to make exorbitant campaign contributions like Mr. Brody did. Instead, many of us are struggling to make our mortgages, pay the bills and feed our families.

“It seems the state GOP remains out of touch with ordinary Tennesseans because they are too busy soliciting money from donors with deep pockets and special interests. We need our elected officials to focus on more ways to create better jobs for us and better schools for our kids,” he added.