Just like last year, 2010 saw numerous efforts to criminalize and further marginalize members of the immigrant community. There were renewed attempts to burden all segments of society—nonprofit agencies, state employees, local sheriffs, educators, small business owners—with the complex task of verifying legal immigration documents. There were also several measures that would prevent immigrant students from attending community college, prevent immigrant mothers from receiving prenatal care, and prevent some US citizen children from registering their birth certificates in TN. Thanks to our collective efforts, we have been able to hold the line in Tennessee and prevent the sweeping, anti-immigrant legislation that has passed in other states.
Below you will find a description of some of the challenges and successes during the 2010 legislative session. Although there were several notable disappointments, we were able to defeat over 95% of the anti-immigrant bills this session and push the effective date of one bad bill until next year. Our efforts would not have been possible without the tireless work of immigrant leaders, our allies, and everyone who took the time to get involved.
Given the challenges this session, the increase in anti-immigrant legislation across the country, and the continued failure of Congress to fix our broken immigration system, it's clear that our struggle is far from over. As the campaign season heats up in Tennessee and the 2011 legislative session approaches, we ask that you please stay connected to the work and ready to take action.
Our Major Challenges:
TN Commends Arizona Racial Profiling Bill As Companies Take Business Elsewhere
TN legislators passed a House Joint Resolution 1253 on Monday, May 24th, commending Arizona for their much maligned SB 1070, a bill that turns a civil immigration violation into a state crime and requires police to engage in racial profiling to enforce it. Although the resolution does not change TN law, it does associate our state's name with something that is not only drawing serious criticism nationwide, but also costing the State of Arizona significant tourism and revenue.
By doing so, our legislators are telling all those businesses who have boycotted Arizona to please add TN to their list of unfriendly, unwelcoming states. As the boycott movement continues to grow, this resolution could certainly help institutions decide which additional states to avoid doing business with.
Behind Closed Doors, English-Only Workplace Bill Rewritten To Encourage Discriminatory Policies
Tennessee legislators modified the language of the English-Only in the Workplace bill (HB 2685/SB 2753) in conference committee, breaking prior commitments made with community partners a few weeks ago. On Wednesday, June 23, the Governor signed this unwelcoming piece of legislation into law.
The sponsor of HB 2685 had worked closely with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) to craft language that conformed to federal EEOC guidelines and clarify protections for limited English-proficient (LEP) and bilingual workers. By changing this bill at the last possible moment, House sponsor Hill violated the trust of the community and passed a flawed piece of legislation.
In its modified form, HB 2685 may encourage small business owners to have English-only policies that violate federal law, exposing them to unnecessary legal liability. Instead of protecting business owners and workers by clarifying federal law, this bill encourages discrimination and appears poised to create legal confusion for many small business owners in Tennessee.
Despite the final form of the bill, the fact remains that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and federal EEOC guidelines protect Tennessee workers from discrimination based on national origin. It is still the case that no employer can create an English-Only policy without a clearly defined business necessity. TIRRC and the TN Human Rights Commission will work together to ensure that our community members are afforded these protections and aware of their rights. We will continue to monitor the advancement of English-Only polices as they emerge and immediately notify our coalition with direct action steps in preventing their passage.
Gov. Bredesen Signs SB1141/HB670 Despite Broad Community Outcry
On Monday, June 28, Governor Bredesen signed SB 1141/HB 670 into law. His decision comes in spite of a broad-based community campaign culminating in an inspiring rally outside of the TN court house and countless letters from leaders throughout Tennessee, including the ACLU, Tennessee Senator Tim Barnes, the Bishop Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee NAACP, the Salahadeen Center, and two of Tennessee's largest papers; the Tennessean and the Knoxville News Sentinel.
As passed, SB1141 requires every jailer in the state to verify the immigration status of every person detained, with no specialized training, funding, oversight, or access to federal immigration databases. Beyond asking questions about citizenship, the bill requires jailers to determine whether someone is in compliance with complex, federal immigration laws; and if jailers cannot make a determination based on their training and the information available, they will be required to share that information with local immigration authorities.
Because of concerns expressed by sheriffs across the state, the legislature delayed implementation of the new law until January of 2011 and only after the Tennessee Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission creates a set of written procedures that jailers will be required to use. While this law is an unwelcome step in the wrong direction, it does provide an opportunity to standardize the procedures used by sheriffs across the state and clarify the limits of their immigration enforcement authority.
Furthermore, it is extremely important for everyone to know that this law does not give police on the street any immigration authority (in contrast to the new Arizona law). It also does not give jailers authority to detain someone for an immigration violation unless there is a federal ICE hold (the same as under current law).
Despite the setback of this bill's passage, we are proud of the broad coalition of immigrant and ally groups that opposed this bill. We will need the support of these diverse community leaders as we monitor implementation of SB1141 and oppose Arizona-type bills in the 2011 legislative session.
Our Major Successes:
English-Only Driving Exam Bill Defeated
After months of appeals from concerned Tennesseans, from calls and emails, to letters from the Mayor of Nashville and the TN Chambers of Commerce, the English-Only Driving Exam bill was defeated several times in the last couple of months. In a sneaky political maneuver, the English-Only bill was reintroduced as an amendment onto several unrelated bills at the last minute. However, the attempt failed because of our collective efforts to educate our elected officials about the unintended consequences of such misguided legislation.
The defeat of the English-Only bill is a major victory for all Tennesseans concerned with our reputation as a welcoming state—and a clear example of what we can achieve when diverse leaders come together for the common good. What we are hearing from community members and faith and business leaders throughout the state is a genuine desire to move beyond the ugly politics of English-Only, to build a brighter tomorrow where immigrants can fully integrate into society.
Defeated Over 35 Piece of Anti-Immigrant Legislation
Every year we are bombarded with anti-immigrant legislation. This year has been no different. In the second half of the Tennessee legislative session we fought over 35 anti-immigrant bills. (For a comprehensive list of these bills click here). However, we are not surprised nor discouraged at the challenge that has been set before us. As the Policy Coordinator, I've been able to see firsthand the drastic changes that have occurred as an outcome of our involvement in the political process. Never before has the immigrant voice been so vocal and the community so engaged in the democratic process. More than ever we are beginning to see a shift in the attitudes of many elected officials and their desire to build and maintain relationships with the immigrant community. Our elected officials are realizing the changing demographics in our state and they understand that the immigrant community will soon become a powerful voting block that will change Tennessee politics as we know it.
Thank You To Our Allies
The immigrant community could not have been able to take on the legislative session without the support and guidance from our amazing and diverse allies. Our allies were at the forefront leading the effort to promote immigrant rights. On behalf of TIRRC and its members I would like to thank everyone for their incredible support this year at the Tennessee legislature. With sustained, positive contact by immigrant leaders and their allies, there is a growing awareness among legislators that anti-immigrant bills are bad for our communities, our consciences, and our state's economic well-being. Business leaders have been effective in explaining the importance of immigrant workers to our continued economic growth. Faith leaders have been indispensable in making the moral argument to oppose legislation that would further marginalize and exploit members of the immigrant community. Immigrant leaders and their allies have been more visible than ever, explaining to legislators the unintended consequences of these bills on our collective future. Thank you to everyone who responded to action alerts, contacted legislators, and participated in New American Day on the Hill, our most important state advocacy day. With our strong and growing coalition of allies it is very evident that Tennesseans will not sit back and watch as part of the community is targeted and marginalized.
Good News About Arizona
Just yesterday, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Arizona, asking a federal judge to strike down most of SB1070. We hope that the courts will agree that the immigration enforcement is a power reserved exclusively for the federal government. To stay up to date with the latest updates on Arizona and other immigration news, make sure to follow TIRRC on Facebook and Twitter!
Preparing For Next Year
This year we faced unique challenges, but nothing will compare to what we have to face next year. Regardless of which party takes control of the Tennessee General Assembly, in the upcoming session, we know for a fact that we will face many of the same pieces of legislation. Additionally, we can definitely expect to face an Arizona copycat bill. Already we are seeing many elected officials promising to introduce similar bills as part of their campaign platforms.
As a first effort to defeat these misguided promises, we must be engaged in this year's elections. As a community, we have to encourage ourselves to avoid sitting on the sidelines, and instead go full throttle. Let's promote voter registration, and hit the polls on election day! Together we can defeat any anti-immigrant bill on our way to building a stronger, more inclusive state for all Tennesseans.
If you would like to know more about this year’s legislative session please contact Remziya Suleyman at email@example.com or call 615-833-0384 (ext. 105)