Tennessee backs checks on legal status

Tennessee backs checks on legal status

June 26th, 2012 by Andy Sher in News

The U.S. Supreme Court building.

The U.S. Supreme Court building.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE -- Tennessee supporters of laws cracking down on illegal immigrants are hailing Monday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upholds a key provision in Arizona's get-tough approach.

But the high court's decision is generating concern from the state's immigrant community, where members say they fear it will encourage "mean-spirited" state lawmakers to push for new laws.

In their decision, Supreme Court justices struck down much of Arizona's law, including a section requiring police to arrest people on immigration charges. But in an 8-0 vote, the court upheld -- at least for now -- a provision that requires police to check the immigration status of suspects stopped for other reasons and are suspected of being in the country illegally.

"The most important provision, at least for the state of Tennessee, was upheld," said Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lacassas, who sponsored similar legislation in Tennessee's 107th General Assembly but failed to get it passed.

Carr, who has pushed any number of bills targeting illegal immigrants, said he needs to read the court's full decision before deciding whether to proceed with his bill next year. But he said he "very likely" would push ahead after discussing the issue with Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and GOP legislative leaders.

Carr pointed out that lawmakers this year passed another of his bills, which requires people in Tennessee seeking many types of public assistance to show documents that they are lawfully in the U.S. or are a U.S. citizen.

Another Carr-sponsored bill passed last year requires employers to utilize the federal E-Verify database to determine would-be hires' legal status. Employers, however, can choose instead to obtain a copy of prospective employees' driver's licenses.

In their ruling, Supreme Court justices also struck down provisions requiring all immigrants to obtain or carry immigration documents and making it a state criminal offense for an immigrant to seek work or have a job.

Although the court OK'd the "show me your papers" provision of the Arizona law, justices cautioned it could face additional legal challenges. One Tennessee group already is charging that the provision invites "racial profiling."

"By issuing this decision, the Supreme Court has effectively turned back the clock on all our hard-won civil rights," said Meagan Macaraeg, organizing director for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugees Rights Coalition, in a statement. "In America, no one should be suspected of not belonging here simply because of the color of one's skin, or an accent in one's voice."

Coalition spokesman Eben Cathey called "show me the papers" laws "mean spirited" and said he hoped Tennessee lawmakers would not move on such a measure.

Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, however, welcomed the justices' upholding of the provision.

"I support Arizona's law, and I would support something similar in Tennessee," Cobb said, noting he traveled to Arizona with a group of other Tennessee lawmakers to present a resolution supporting Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and legislators on their passage of the law.

Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Indiana and Utah have passed laws somewhat similar to Arizona's, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Haslam's communications chief, Alexia Poe, said officials are "reviewing the Supreme Court's full opinion but don't anticipate the ruling will impact the immigration bills that the governor has signed into law during the past two legislative sessions in Tennessee."

She added that it "would be premature at this point to speculate on what impact the ruling might have on potential future legislation in Tennessee."

The Associated Press and other wire services contributed to this report.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfree press.com or 615-255-0550.