Republican state lawmakers unveiled their package of bills to combat illegal immigration Wednesday, including an Arizona-style crackdown giving police unprecedented new authority to question and detain suspects.
The ACLU immediately vowed to sue to overturn that bill if it becomes law, saying it would spur racial discrimination. Business interests also expressed reservations about the bills.
“This is a monster bill,” ACLU-Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said of the legislation modeled after Arizona’s controversial law. “It invites racial profiling. It is not deserving of the people of Tennessee. … It’s very troubling that our legislators choose to move in this way. ACLU will be prepared to file a lawsuit were this bill to pass the way it’s drafted today.”
Under the bill, police must have other grounds for stopping someone — say, for a traffic violation — but then they may inquire about that person’s immigration status if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that person is here illegally. It requires immigrants to prove that they are authorized to be in the country or risk state charges.
The grounds for reasonable suspicion are not spelled out in the bill, and Weinberg asked: “Would that be the color of one’s skin, the accent of the individual when they question him or her? This is an unacceptable bill. It certainly should not pass in Tennessee.”
The legislation would repeal a 33-year-old state law that gave collective bargaining rights to teachers.
Last July, a federal judge blocked the most controversial parts of the Arizona law from taking effect. The judge agreed with the Obama administration that it interferes with federal authority over immigration and could lead to harassment of citizens and legal immigrants.
Arizona reportedly suffered $100 million in tourism losses after enacting its law. But the Tennessee bill’s sponsor —Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro — insisted that wouldn’t happen here.
“I think people are going to see Tennessee as that shining state on a hill and want to move here because we’re doing the right things about being American,” Ketron said.
Republicans backed two other immigration bills at a news conference — one to require businesses to use the federal government’s Internet-based E-Verify system of determining whether employees are in the country legally, and another to try to ensure that government benefit programs are denied to illegal immigrants.
“They come here for the jobs, the illegals. We understand that. But they stay for the benefits. We think we’ve got a comprehensive solution for a Tennessee problem,” said Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas.
Bradley Jackson, lobbyist for the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, criticized the E-Verify system as “a government mandate, no matter how you slice it, period. It’s an additional burden on business.”