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. 

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What's at Stake for Immigrants and Refugees in 2016

The 2016 legislative session is underway! On January 12th, legislators returned to Nashville for the second half of the 109th General Assembly. Half of the Tennessee Senate and the entire House of Representatives will be up for re-election in August and November of this year, causing many to align themselves with good politics instead of good policy. Many legislators are also hoping to ride the coattails of Presidential candidates by echoing the anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment that has taken center stage in the 2016 elections.

This year we'll be working to defeat more than 15 pieces of legislation, including extreme attempts to stop refugee resettlement and three bills that aim to stop so-called "sanctuary" cities by prohibiting localities from limiting how ICE uses local facilities and institutions to separate families. And, we'll be working hard to make sure that tuition equality passes this year and that undocumented students in the Class of 2016 have greater opportunity to enroll in college this fall. 

Below is a summary of what's at stake for immigrants and refugees this legislative session. For more details on specific bills and tools to advocate for your community, visit our 2016 policy watch page. 

For more information about TIRRC's policy work, please contact our Policy Manager Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus at lisa@tnimmigrant.org.


Tuition Equality

Since 2012, TIRRC members have been advocating to change our tuition policies and make it easier for undocumented Tennessee students to pursue higher education. Last year, a bill to grant in-state tuition to certain undocumented students came within one vote of passing. Read more about the vote here.

This year, the bill will have to pass the Calendar and Rules committee before it goes back to the House floor for another vote. TIRRC members have been organizing across the state since the bill failed in April 2015. Stay tuned for more updates on how you can get involved in the campaign and make sure that tuition equality becomes a reality for Tennessee students this year. Questions? Contact Eben Cathey at Eben@tnimmigrant.org for more information. 

Download our newest publication, Tuition Equality: A Brighter Future for TennesseeWe hope you can use this information to build support for tuition equality in your community!


As expected, the legislature is considering a handful of anti-refugee policies. Since the tragedies in Paris in November 2015, some legislators have attempted to scapegoat refugees and introduced bills that would seek to limit or halt resettlement, deny services to refugee families and children, and discriminate against refugees from certain Middle Eastern and African countries. One particular resolution (SJR0476) would direct the Attorney General to sue the federal government over refugee resettlement (and allow the General Assembly to hire outside counsel if the AG refuses to sue). These bills are the latest in a years long campaign to stem Muslim migration and slow changing demographics across the state. Read more about Tennessee's long history of anti-refugee and anti-Muslim policies in our latest report, Countering the Backlash: Strategies for Responding to Anti-Refugee and Xenophobic Activity from the New South.  We'll need your support this year to make sure that Tennessee legislators understand that they can't score political points by closing the door on people fleeing violence and persecution.

People of Faith: Join us in Welcoming Refugees! TIRRC and the Scarritt Bennett Center are organizing faith leaders to join our campaign to ensure that Tennessee welcomes refugees. Please encourage faith leaders in your network to sign on today.  

Keeping Immigration Out of the Criminal Justice System

Since July 2015, Presidential candidates and extremists in Congress have been campaigning against so-called "sanctuary cities"--a misnomer to describe localities that have put reasonable limits on how federal authorities can conduct immigration enforcement activities. There have been three bills filed in the Tennessee legislature that require localities to "fully comply" with every request from federal immigration authorities, including voluntary requests like detaining individuals when they would otherwise be eligible for release. If any locality does attempt to set reasonable limits on collaboration with ICE, they could be punished by the withholding of loans, incentives, and grants from the Department of Economic Development or grants made to local law enforcement agencies. 

Another bill, introduced by Representative Daniels and Senator Bailey, would allow for enhanced sentences in criminal court, "if the defendant was illegally present" at the time the crime was committed. 

Legislating Islamophobia

While the attack on refugees in the legislature is thinly-veiled Islamophobia, some legislators have introduced more explicit anti-Muslim legislature. Of note, Representatives Micah Van Huss, Matthew Hill, and Timothy Hill have filed legislation that they say aims to stop "Islamic religious indoctrination" in Tennessee schools. Representative Van Huss says that he, "did not fight radical Islam in Iraq just to come home and find our children being indoctrinated." 

We're still keeping our eye on Senator Ketron's bill that seeks to ban "no-go" zones in Tennessee. The term "no-go zone" is used to describe a neighborhood or place that is strictly for Muslim communities, where non-Muslims are unwelcome, and where Shariah law governs. Senator Ketron introduced this legislation even after the idea of "no-go zones" had been widely debunked nationally. The bill was introduced last year. It was not debated in committee but will remain an active bill until the legislative session ends later this spring.


Policy Update: 2015 Legislative Session Underway!

The 2015 legislative session is underway! 

Over the past decade, the Tennessee General Assembly has debated and voted on some of the harshest anti-immigrantpolicies in the country and has become a national testing ground for unthinkable anti-refugee legislation. TIRRC has led the fight at the legislature to hold the line and stop these bills from passingIn both 2013 and 2014 we defeated every anti-immigrant bill, and over time we have seen far fewerlegislators introduce bills to marginalize and limit the participation of immigrant communities. Not only that, but we are closer than ever to passing a bill that would grant in-state tuition to undocumented graduates in Tennessee. 

Many legislators waited until the bill filing deadline Thursday to introduce their legislation. While we're still reading through proposed legislation to identify bills that will impact immigrants, we've already spotted several harmful pieces -- including sweeping legislation to transform our refugee resettlement program and bills that discriminate against immigrant business owners. We'll send a more detailed list of bills in the next policy update, along with ways you can engage to stop negative legislation.  


Tuition Equality Bill Introduced
Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) and Representative Mark White (R-Memphis) have introducedlegislation to exempt certain students from payment of
out-of-state tuition rates at public universities 
(SB0612/HB0675) regardless of immigration status. If passed, this legislation would make college a possibility for thousands of undocumented youth across Tennessee.

Under current policy, undocumented students are not eligible for in-state tuition rates and must pay more than three times as much as their classmates to attend a public college or university, no matter how long they've lived in Tennessee. A similar bill was introduced in 2014 by Senator Gardenhire and former Representative Floyd and garnered support from institutions across Tennessee, like the University of Memphis, Metro Nashville Public Schools, and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. 

Three years ago, TIRRC youth members launched a campaign to change Tennessee's unjust tuitionpolicies, and now we're closer than ever! We're hopeful that Dreamers in the Class of 2015 will be able to walk across the graduation stage with greater access to higher education.

Check out our media coverage!

Bill Would Give Undocumented Immigrants In-State Tuition 
Adam Tamburin at the Tennessean
"Many undocumented immigrants going to college this year will continue to pay substantially more than their peers to stay in Tennessee, unless legislation introduced this week becomes law. Tennessee lawmakers filed a bill this week that would offer some undocumented immigrants in-state tuition at public colleges. The move was greeted with support from immigration advocates, business leaders, and educators."

Patrick McMurtry on Channel 4 in Nashville 
TIRRC member Cesar Bautista shares his story with Channel 4 and explains how current tuition policies prevent eager students from pursuing higher education.


Calling all educators!


Behind these brave youth has always been a network of allies and educators who have supported, encouraged, and inspired them to keep fighting. As our state legislators will once again consider whether or not to give these graduates in-state tuition, Tennessee Dreamers need the support of teachers, professors, and administrators.  We're asking members of the education community to sign on to a letter that will be sent to members of the General Assembly, urging them to support Dreamers and tuition equality. 

Educators can see the letter, add their name, and learn about other ways to get involved by visiting our website


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!