Tennessee has around 140,000 illegal immigrants, State Rep. Joe Carr said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
This is a problem he, along with State Sens. Bill Ketron and Jim Tracy, hopes to tackle with new legislation introduced on Capitol Hill.
Carr (R - Lascassas) introduced a comprehensive immigration reform plan Wednesday, which calls for a three-tiered approach to strengthen existing state law “in order for private businesses and state and local law enforcement agencies to have the authority to effectively deal with illegal immigration,” Carr said.
“By taking a comprehensive approach that targets three distinct areas of the law, we can bring the reform demanded by so many of our citizens,” Carr said.
The plan is comprised of three pieces of legislation, the “Lawful Immigration Enforcement Act” sponsored by Ketron (R - Murfreesboro), the “Eligibility Verification for Entitlements Act” sponsored by State Sen. Jack Johnson (R - Franklin) and the “Tennessee Lawful Employment Act” sponsored by Tracy (R - Shelbyville).
The Lawful Immigration Enforcement Act allows state and local law enforcement to determine the immigration status of an individual during a lawful traffic stop.
Similar to Nashville’s 287g program, it then requires law enforcement to detain and turn over illegal immigrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The Eligibility Verification for Entitlements Act authorizes state agencies to check the immigration status of individuals who receive state benefits and prohibits verified illegal aliens from receiving state entitlements.
The Tennessee Lawful Employment Act, or E-Verify biil, requires all employers to submit the social securities numbers of all new hires after Oct. 1, 2011 to the United State Department of Homeland Security for verification.
Currently more than 4,000 Tennessee businesses participate in the E-Verify system.
The E-Verify bill will penalize businesses for hiring illegal immigrants with escalating consequences with businesses losing their licenses after the third offense, Tracy explained.
“I think this is a common sense approach that gets things done,” Tracy said about the legislation.
But not everyone agrees. Tennessee’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is preparing to challenge the laws should they pass.
“This in an unacceptable bill and should not pass in Tennessee,” said Hedy Wienburg, president of the state’s ACLU. “The ACLU will be prepared to file a lawsuit if it passes as it is today.”
Weinburg is particularly concerned about the Lawful Immigration Enforcement Act, bias in law enforcement and what may be used to define a lawful stop.
“This jeopardizes public safety by making local law enforcement de facto ICE agents,” she said. “It is not the best use of our resources.”
But Carr contended this is exactly what the state needs to protect its resources.
According to Carr, there are 140,000 illegal immigrants in Tennessee, as well as the 100,000-110,000 in the workforce and 25,000 in public schools across the state, which cost the state $550 million a year in public education and other entitlements with only $50 million offset by sales taxes paid by immigrants.
“They come for the jobs. They stay for the benefits,” Carr said.