Policy & Advocacy

As an organization, we organize communities to become more involved in the civic process. To that end, we engage in advocacy on the local, state, and federal level. We work to prevent legislation from passing that limits the ability of immigrant communities to fully participate and contribute to our communities. We also work to promote legislation that makes it easier for all families to live, learn, work, and worship in our state. 

For updates on the Tennessee General Assembly, click here.

For updates on Comprehensive Immigration Reform, click here.

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Latest News:


2014 Legislative Session is Underway!

The 2014 legislative session is underway! In recent years, the General Assembly has debated and voted on some of the harshest anti-immigrant policies in the country. TIRRC has been leading the fight at the legislature to hold the line and stop bills from passing that make it more difficult for immigrant families to live, learn, work, and worship in Tennessee. This year, it's clear the tide is turning.

Far fewer legislators are introducing bills to marginalize and limit the participation of immigrant communities. In fact, members of both parties have recognized the value of investing in immigrant integration and have introduced positive bills. 

As the campaign for comprehensive, federal immigration reform continues, we'll be fighting for a more welcoming Tennessee at the state legislature. 

Tuition Equality Now! 

Each year, undocumented students graduate in Tennessee with hopes of continuing their education, but no matter how long they have lived in the state, they must pay more than three times as much to attend a public college or university--even if they meet all other residency requirements as other students. 

We are so happy to announce that two bills have been filed that would expand access to in-state tuition rates to Tennessee graduates, regardless of their immigration status. One of these pieces of legislation is getting ready to be heard in committee, so be on the lookout for opportunities to take action! Learn more about the bills here. 

Bills to Watch

Expanding E-Verify. In 2011, the General Assembly passed a bill expanding the use of E-Verify by employers in Tennessee. This year, Representative Joe Carr (R-Lascassas) and Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), have introduced a bill that would require the use of this costly and inaccurate program for all businesses with more than six employees. E-verify undermines worker rights and protections, makes it difficult for lawful immigrant workers to find jobs, and burdens small businesses. TIRRC strongly opposes this bill. 

Remaining 2013 anti-immigrant bills. We'll continue to monitor and oppose the anti-immigrant bills that were filed in 2013 and remain active. These bills include efforts to defund refugee resettlement, take driver licenses away from DACA recipients, undermine immigrant civic engagement, violate due process in criminal justice proceedings, and require driver license examinations to be conducted in English-only. Read more about all of the bills here. 

In addition to these bills, several legislators have proposed legislation that hurts working families, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. TIRRC will work in solidarity with our allies to oppose these bills and promote economic, racial, and social justice for all people in Tennessee. 


No Anti-Immigrant Bills Pass in 2013!

On Friday, April 19th, the Tennessee General Assembly adjourned, marking the end of the first half of a two-year session. While this shorter-than-expected session will certainly be remembered for the growing pains of the new Republican supermajority, heated battles over education reform, and several mentions on national cable news, immigrant rights advocates will celebrate 2013 as a year when no anti-immigrant legislation passed.

Though a victory worth celebrating, the 2013 legislative session also forecasts the many challenges we can expect in 2014 and the expanding focus of anti-immigrant legislation in Tennessee.

Check out our full 2013 legislative review here.


We Did It! Anti-Refugee Bill Sent to "Summer Study"

Thank you to everyone who took action last week and this morning in response to the anti-refugee bill. We did it! After an incredible response from our members across the state and the advocacy of TIRRC and our partners at the legislature, members of the House State Government Committee asked tough questions about HB1326 and ultimately voted to send it to a summer study committee. This is very good news. It means that the bill will not be voted on again this year, and will likely languish in study committee until the end of session next year. 

Representative Womick's HB1326 was the latest bill in a multi-year effort to create a hostile environment for refugee families who come to Tennessee to escape persecution, work hard, and begin rebuilding their lives. HB1326 was a thinly veiled effort to stop refugee resettlement in Tennessee by defunding the Tennessee Office of Refugees (TOR) and other agencies that provide services to new refugee families. 

While most political leaders see refugee resettlement as a smart investment and an expression of our state's highest values, there are several extremist lawmakers who continue to target these vulnerable individuals and the agencies that serve them. Resettlement agencies play a vital role in helping refugee families understand Tennessee culture and get back on their feet. This bill would undermine those efforts, send an unwelcoming message to the international community, and put yet another black mark on our state's reputation. 

After the bill passed the subcommittee last week, Chairman Sanderson (R-Kenton) learned more about the plight of refugees, the role of the Tennessee Office of Refugees, and the true nature of the bill, and passionately stood up in committee for what is right. Chairman Sanderson told the committee, "This bill is smoke and mirrors. It is no more than an opportunity to stop refugee resettlement...We are punishing people who are doing the refugee resettlement because there are certain people who do not want refugees here." 

Can you take a moment to send Chairman Sanderson a thank you email? 

Please take one minute to send a thank you message to rep.bill.sanderson@capitol.tn.gov saying:

"Thank you for your courageous comments today in the House State Government Committee in opposition to HB1326. Thank you for standing up for our values of compassion and opportunity and keeping Tennessee a welcoming state." 

We are very encouraged by the committee's action today and confident in the bill's eventual demise. Thanks again for taking action! 


HB985: AG Opinion Says "Constitutionally Suspect," Delayed in House

From the Tennessean: 

"AG: Bill banning non-U.S. citizens from poll watching 'constitutionally suspect'"

Joey Garrison, The Tennessean

The state’s attorney general says pending state legislation that would prohibit non-U.S. citizens, regardless of their immigration status, from working at or even entering polling places is “constitutionally suspect.”

In an opinion released Wednesday, Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper says House Bill 985, sponsored by Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, and Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, would likely violate the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment despite the arguments of some backers.

It is not apparent that protection of the integrity of the polling place is a rationale for this citizenship requirement, particularly when state law does not otherwise require a person to be a registered voter to perform any of these functions in the polling place,” the opinion reads.

The bill would require that poll watchers be U.S. citizens and bar non-citizens from admission to voting sites.

An amended version — which gives a special exemption authorizing non-U.S. citizens who are assisting physically disabled voters to enter polls — cleared the upper chamber earlier this month.

On the heels of the new attorney general’s opinion, the House on Thursday opted to delay voting on the bill for one week.

Matheny did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The opinion points to a state statute that allows political parties and groups interested in “preserving the purity of elections” the opportunity to appoint poll watchers.

According to Cooper, requiring poll watchers to be U.S. citizens would have a “discriminatory impact” on aliens and foreign-born residents.

Immigrant advocates have embraced the legal opinion as they seek to defeat the legislation.

“The duties of poll watchers are not dependent on a person's immigration status,” said Stephanie Teatro, director of advocacy for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. “We agree with the Attorney General that this bill unlawfully discriminates on the basis of national origin and doesn’t uphold our values as Tennesseans.”


Policy Update: March 23, 2013

State Legislative Updates:

Anti-Refugee Bill Moving Forward! 

HB1326/SB1325 is the latest bill in a multi-year attempt to create a hostile environment for refugee families who come to Tennessee to escape persecution, work hard, and begin rebuilding their lives. HB1326/SB1325 is a thinly veiled effort to stop refugee resettlement in TN by defunding the Tennessee Office of Refugees (TOR). The TOR and its partner organizations work to build the self-sufficiency of refugee families, support them in finding employment, learning English, and adapting to a new culture. After this initial support, most refugees thrive and prosper in their new home, contribute to their local economies, and enrich and strengthen their new communities. Representative Womick and Senator Ketron ignore the positive contributions of refugees to Tennessee, and instead promote mean-spirited policies based on the false premise that refugees are less worthy of being in Tennessee than any of us.

HB1326, as introduced, would require the TOR to reimburse the state for the "cost" of refugees--as determined by such metrics as how many children are in school. HB1326 was discussed in the House Government Subcommittee on Wednesday, March 20th. After the bill was amended to require the TOR to submit annual reports but not yet be billed for the "cost" of refugees, it passed out of the subcommittee. Representative Johnny Shaw (D-Bolivar) voted to oppose the bill. Representative Sheila Butt (R-Columbia) and Representative Evans (R-Greenbrier) voted to pass the bill. Representative Bill Sanderson (R-Kenton) and Representative Kent Williams (I-Elizabethton) passed without voting. The bill has not been amended in the Senate. 

The amended bill will be voted on in the House State Government Committee and the Senate State and Local Government Committee on Tuesday, March 26th.

English-Only driver license exams taken off notice! After weeks of successful lobbying by TIRRC members and allies, SB900/HB593 was taken off notice. This bill would have required all examinations for driver licenses in Tennessee to be conducted in English only. By eliminating translations of the test, Tennessee roads would become less safe, immigrants would have a more difficult time integrating and learning English, and Tennessee would appear to the international community as an unwelcoming place to live and invest. 

Undermining civic engagement bill passes House Committee, moves to vote in full House. SB549/HB985 would prohibit non-U.S. citizens, regardless of immigration status, from serving as volunteer poll watchers. Having already passed out of the Senate, the bill passed the House Local Government Committee on Tuesday, March 19th. See how committee members voted here. The bill will be voted on in the full House of Representatives on Thursday, March 28th. TIRRC strongly opposes this bill and any bill that discriminates based on national origin. Please contact your Representative and urge them to vote no on HB985. For more information about the bill, visit TIRRC's website. 

Anti-living wage, pro-wage theft bill passes Senate Committee. After already passing the House of Representatives, the Senate State and Local Government Committee voted to pass HB510/SB35, a bill to take power away from local governments to set standards for local workers in regards to wages, family leave, insurance, and wage theft on Tuesday, March 19th. See how committee members voted here. Undocumented workers are most vulnerable to wage theft and other workplace exploitation, which affects the wages and working conditions of all workers. This bill undermines the ability of local governments to protect workers and businesses. For more information on this bill, visit our website. 

Our friends at Worker's Interfaith Network put together a petition to send to members of the Senate. Can you sign here?  

Bill to undermine due process taken off notice! SB248/HB410 would have allowed magistrates to consider someone's undocumented status (a civil immigration violation) against them in criminal justice cases. TIRRC strongly opposed this bill and was encouraged by Representative Alexander's decision to take the bill off notice. For more information about the bill, visit TIRRC's website.

Other Updates

Davidson County Election Commission overturns controversial decision to investigate naturalized citizens who register to vote.