Tennessee Republicans recently filed three bills designed to fight illegal immigration. This presents an irony of sorts, because when some conservatives want to deny non-heterosexuals equal rights, as we saw here in Nashville after Belmont-gate, they insist that new legislation is “too expensive” and is an intrusion of government into affairs that are none of its business. But when they want to do something about illegal immigration, suddenly all things are possible.
One of the new bills would require Tennessee employers to use the federal government’s E-Verify system to check the names and social security numbers of new hires. Another bill would prohibit illegal aliens from receiving government benefits. A third bill would direct state and local police to determine the citizenship status of people they stop.
David Morales of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition said the result would be similar to a police state. Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, said the third bill would invite racial profiling.
But we have laws that prevent criminals and non-citizens from running for and holding public office. So it’s hard to understand why it would be wrong to prevent criminals and illegal aliens from receiving government benefits. If we are going to have laws that don’t turn Tennessee into a police state, it seems obvious that the laws should be as fair and unobtrusive as possible.
It would be unfair to racially profile people based on the color of their skin. But would it be in any way unfair to require everyone to carry identity cards and produce them when applying for a driver's license, registering children for school, etc.? We already produce birth certificates, social security cards and drivers' licenses, and this is reasonable.
Of course it would be unfair for the police to pull people over because of the way they look. But after someone has been pulled over for violating a traffic law, how can it be “wrong” to verify citizenship, since the police already verify that license plates and drivers’ licenses are valid?
For that matter, why limit ourselves to checking only citizenship status? Why not check to see if people have unpaid traffic tickets or taxes, or are deadbeat parents with unpaid child support, etc.? Identity cards could be used to make sure that only citizens in good standing get the benefits they deserve, while everyone else has to pony up, go to jail or leave the country.
Michael R. Burch is a Nashville-based editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry and other “things literary,” at www.thehypertexts.com.