TIRRC in the news:


TN lawmaker puts immigration bill on hold

The Tennessean

Brian Wilson and Chas Sisk

Wed, Feb 1, 2012 at 7:18pm


A state House bill that would allow law enforcement to check someone’s immigration status if pulled over or detained has been put on hold for the moment.

The bill, called the Lawful Immigration Enforcement Act, was put behind the budget by a House finance subcommittee Wednesday morning. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, acknowledged that the move, made until sufficient funds can be generated to finance it, slows the bill’s progress.

“Putting it behind the budget doesn’t kill it,” he said. “It basically parks it.”

The proposed bill would allow law enforcement to check someone’s immigration status if an officer reasonably suspected a person already stopped or detained wasn’t a citizen or legal immigrant. The bill also would create a training program for law enforcement about immigration laws.

“We are prioritizing the state’s stance on illegal immigration based on the financial resources we have,” Carr said.

Eben Cathey, communications coordinator for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, is pleased by the bill’s delay — although he would have rather seen the subcommittee defeat the “discriminatory legislation” outright.

“This Arizona copycat bill doesn’t reflect the values and priorities of Tennessee voters,” he said. “It takes some of the worst aspects of these bills and tries to implement them in Tennessee.”

The bill’s move does not signal a change on Carr’s stance on illegal immigration. Carr also believes the bill’s limited reach compared to immigration laws passed in Alabama and Arizona makes it more feasible.

“Backing off, no. Prioritizing, yes,” he said. “We’ve got a very targeted approach to tackle illegal immigration here in the state.”

Carr believes the bill only extends the reach of current laws.

“All (it) really does is extend it to the patrol officers on the beat,” he said. “It allows law enforcement to do what jailers are already required to do.”

A similar state Senate bill has not been discussed since last year.

Harboring bill advances

Separately, the House Judiciary subcommittee advanced a measure that would make it illegal to transport or harbor “illegal aliens,” even though its sponsor offered to withdraw the measure.

The measure, House Bill 2191, has drawn fire from some nonprofits and churches, which say it could open them to prosecution if they take in homeless immigrants or transport them to functions.

But its sponsor, Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, said his intention was only to punish human trafficking by criminal groups engaged in the drug trade, prostitution and slavery.

Shipley told the subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett, that he was willing to withdraw it because it was redundant with other anti-human trafficking measures. But Coley asked the subcommittee to advance it to the full committee nonetheless so it could be discussed further.


Tennessee to Foreign Visitors: Should You Stay or Should You Go? Pith in the Wind

The Nashville Scene

Betsy Phillips

Wed, Feb 1, 2012 at 5:00 AM


The House Judiciary Subcommittee today will be considering a bill that makes driving an undocumented immigrant passenger a felony. How someone driving a car, cab, church van, limo, or horse-drawn carriage is supposed to tell if their passengers are here legally, I'm not really sure. Will all drivers have access to ICE-led training sessions that allow us to identify proper documentation when we see it?

In a press release, Stephen Fotopulos, executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition, says, "The last thing we want is to put Tennessee on a black list of states that treat all immigrants and international visitors with suspicion. If our legislators continue down this road, they’ll be steering our state into an economic ditch."

Did he say "international visitors?" Oh, yeah. Turns out that at the same time the state legislature is considering turning us all into immigration officers, state and local tourism officials are all excited about new efforts to lure foreign visitors to Nashville. From The Tennessean:


International tourists like the Clearys helped the hall set an attendance record of 507,510 last year, but they remain a rare sight in Nashville and Tennessee overall.


Now, local, state, regional and national tourism officials — with an assist from President Barack Obama — are embarking on efforts to lure more foreign tourists, especially from fast-growing countries such as Brazil, China and India.


But HB2191 says you can't transport anyone you "know or reasonably should know is an illegal alien."

Gosh, but how should we reasonably know someone is an illegal alien? Funny names? Funny ways of speaking? Paperwork that we don't know how to verify?

Since it's a felony and they'll take your vehicle, it's best to just not give a ride to any foreigners — which is going to make it very, very difficult for those foreign tourists we're courting to get from the airport to our tourist destinations.

I hope the tourism folks are helping the House Judiciary committee shape this legislation. If we're devising a tagline to invite visitors from other countries to spend money in Tennessee, I don't think "You look foreign — I can't risk giving you a ride to the Ryman" is gonna cut it.



Arrest shows how undocumented students are punished, often through no fault of their own

The City Paper

July 10, 2011

James Nix

Last Thursday, students and supporters of Mercedes Gonzalez showed up at the door to the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office in a show of support for their fellow grad.

Their message: Don’t deport our future.

Their problem: Davidson County’s 287(g) program, an agreement with the federal government under which the sheriff’s office processes foreign-born arrestees, marking those here illegally for possible deportation.

On May 15, police stopped Gonzalez in her car near the intersection of Harding Place and Nolensville Pike for speeding 8 miles per hour faster than the 40-mph speed limit. When asked for her license, Gonzalez told the officer she didn’t have one. And when he was unable to identify her using her name, date of birth or fingerprints, the officer cuffed Gonzalez and took her to jail for driving without a license. 

“That made me feel like a criminal,” Gonzalez said, “which I’m not.” Once in jail, an employee there “told me I would never go back to my family,” Gonzalez recalled. She feared she’d miss graduation from Overton High School six days later.

Gonzalez was allowed to leave jail after three days, at which point the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition  took up her cause, highlighting it as an example of how undocumented students are punished through no fault of their own.

TIRRC members helped organize and promote the rally of support for Gonzalez, whose predicament is an example of the national “Change Takes Courage” immigration reform movement urging  President Barack Obama to, among other things, stop breaking up families through deportations.

Gonzalez’s story is one of TIRRC’s many pots on a fire that is the blazing national debate of immigration policy. 

Recently, TIRRC has had its hand in several demonstrations to highlight what the coalition views as problems and injustices in a flawed national immigration system. 

Two weeks ago, TIRRC members found themselves part of a national campaign to encourage Wells Fargo to divest any assets the company might own in the private prison industry, which detractors say is profiteering from illegal immigration by supporting laws such as Arizona’s and therefore driving up the number of inmates.

In May, TIRRC participated in a demonstration at the Green Hills headquarters of Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest private prison operator. 

Last August, TIRRC joined a broader coalition in highlighting violations of the H-2B guest worker program by Vanderbilt Landscaping LLC in Smyrna. The company was later fined $18,000 and banned from participating in the program for three years.

In fact, those on both sides of the immigration policy and illegal immigration debate are disenchanted with the federal government’s response over the past several years. The debate escalated sharply with the passage in 2010 of Arizona’s much criticized law on illegal immigration.

Stephen Fotopulos, who just marked his third year as TIRRC executive director, called Arizona’s law the “game changer” that ramped up the debate and led to a “dangerous and costly experiment” of states making their own immigration policies. 

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law last April, broadening local law enforcement’s ability to identify those suspected of being in the country illegally and detaining them for possible deportation later.

TIRRC spent a lot of time and energy the past six months, Fotopulos said, holding the line in the General Assembly against what he called a “small handful of lawmakers” who want to adopt similar bills to Arizona’s law and create a “mishmash” of immigration laws. TIRRC succeeded in at least stalling the “Arizona copycat bill,” as Fotopulos called it, in the legislature until next year.

But success and failure are defined by which side of the bread gets buttered.

Rep. Joe Carr’s most recent success in anti-illegal immigration came this past state legislative session with the passage of an amended bill requiring employers to use the E-Verify system to check the citizenship of new hires through a federal program.

To Carr, R-Lascassas, the difference between organizations such as TIRRC and those who believe as he does is the difference between the rights of legal immigrants and illegal immigrants, as well as the obligations of the government to enforce the law. “They [TIRRC] do not make a distinction,” he said.

If it’s a broken immigration policy being discussed, Carr agrees the process of someone receiving citizenship legally is lengthy and is tripped up by “entirely too much red tape.”

“But that has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the fundamental problem that we have with illegal immigration in this state and in this country.”

Carr feels, however, that some hide behind the phrase “immigration reform,” using it as a code word for amnesty. “I’m absolutely opposed to amnesty in any form. What I am for, though, is enforcement.”

First, he said, there must be real enforcement at the border, but then states should be allowed to “rectify the state problem that the federal government has put on top of us with a state solution individualized for each state.” 

Gonzalez prefers not to discuss how she arrived in the United States from Mexico around the time she was in middle school. As she remains an undocumented alien, she still faces deportation, though a date for the proceedings has yet to be set.

But if Gonzalez is one of TIRRC’s poster children for immigration policy injustice, Carr has his own.

On May 3, according to the Gallatin Police Department, officers arrested Victor Quroz-Salate after a 9-year-old girl said she awoke to find the man allegedly sexually assaulting her. 

Gallatin police arrested Quroz-Salate on an aggravated sexual battery charge, and discovered he had previously been deported in August 2009 by Immigration Customs Enforcement officials. He was apparently back in the U.S. illegally when Gallatin authorities arrested him.

In a press release regarding the arrest, Gallatin police reported that Quroz-Salate likes Tennessee and the U.S. because “people get things for free here.” 

“And now we’ve got a 9-year-old little girl who suffered as a result of it,” Carr said. “That’s the problem.”

But for Gonzalez, her possible deportation problem is out of her control. Though she graduated from Overton the Saturday following her arrest, her plans to go on to college and eventually become a doctor or nurse are now in jeopardy.

“Basically, I know Obama has the power to stop the deportation not just for me but for the people that’s going through the same situation,” she said.

“I’m pretty sure that I can do good things — for Nashville and Tennessee.”


TIRRC Challenges Teenager’s Deportation and 287(g) Program

Nashville Public Radio

July 7, 2011

Bridgit Bowden

A Tennessee Immigrant Rights group is highlighting the case of a Nashville teenager to challenge a program that allows the Sheriff’s office to check immigration status on a federal database.

18-year-old Mercedes Gonzales was pulled over for speeding a week before her high school graduation. After she was arrested for driving without a license, she was found to be an undocumented immigrant by a 287(g) screening. She is currently awaiting a court date before a deportation judge.

Amelia Post of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition was among those protesting the possible deportation in front of the Sheriff’s office. She says 287(g) punishes people who haven’t committed serious crimes.

“We’ve seen that 287(g) ends up targeting students, hardworking people, families, and that’s not what the people of Nashville want.”

Davidson County Sherriff’s Office spokesperson Karla Weikal says that 287(g) isn’t supposed to focus on serious criminals only.

“It never was brought to Nashville under the premise of the worst of the worst, and that’s something that has been repeated among those who would rather see it that way. But that’s just not the case and never was.”

The teenager’s attorney says they are petitioning the Department of Homeland Security to try and stop her deportation and ultimately end Nashville’s participation in 287(g).


Tracy refugee bill attacked by rights group

Shelbyville Times-Gazette

July 3, 2011

Brian Mosely

A bill that originated from the desk of State Sen. Jim Tracy has been signed into law that would make sure that local communities would be able to absorb refugees.

But a state immigrant rights group has blasted the new measure, calling it an "unprecedented attack on refugees."

Called the Refugee Absorptive Capacity Act, the new law, signed by Gov. Bill Haslam on May 27, will require Catholic Charities, the state's refugee program agency, to meet four times a year with local governments to plan and coordinate "the appropriate placement of refugees in advance of the refugees' arrival ..."

A number of refugees from a variety of countries, such as Somali, Burma and Egypt, have moved to Shelbyville in recent years to be closer to jobs at the Tyson Foods facility.

Tracy told the T-G in February that there has been "a lot of discussion across the state about this, particularly in Bedford County ... but other counties also." He explained at the time that the law would require resettlement agencies to let local governments know when a large number of refugees are coming "because it puts a burden on the local community."

"Absorptive capacity" refers to a community's ability to meet the existing needs of its current residents, the availability of affordable or low-cost housing, including existing waiting lists, and "the capacity of the local school district to meet the needs of the existing or anticipated refugee student population."

The law also refers to "the ability of the local economy to absorb new workers without causing competition with local residents for job opportunities, displacing existing local workers, or adversely affecting the wages or working conditions of the local workforce."

It also states that a local government can request a moratorium on new resettlement activities, by documenting that the community lacks the absorptive capacity and that further resettlement would result in an adverse impact to existing residents.

The bill passed the state house by a vote of 86-10 with passage in the Senate side by a vote of 22-9-1.

Law criticized

The new law has drawn the ire of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Right Coalition, which has labeled the measure the "Refugees Not Welcome Act."

According to a statement on TIRRC's website, "we are concerned that it will encourage local governments to pass symbolic resolutions to discourage further refugee resettlement."

"It is difficult for anybody to leave their country of birth and establish a new home in the US," the organization stated in their 2011 Legislative Wrap Up, "and receiving communities have an important role to play in helping to facilitate the immigrant integration process."

The coalition said that new laws should encourage communication between refugees groups and settlement agencies, and the towns that receive them, "but not create a hostile environment for refugee families who have come to Tennessee to escape persecution, find honest work, and begin rebuilding their lives."

"Through our Welcoming Tennessee Initiative, we hope to not only counter these misguided attempts but also increase understanding of how new Tennesseans share our values, contribute to our economy, enhance our combined culture and strengthen our communities, the TIRRC said.

The Welcoming Tennessee Initiative was recently featured in the film "Welcome to Shelbyville, which was aired nationwide on PBS in May.