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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 Tennessee. We 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.
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.