NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam says he has concerns about a bill requiring state officials to stamp terms such as "Alien" or "Non-U.S. citizen" on Tennessee driver's licenses and other forms of identification issued to persons without permanent legal status to live in the U.S.
Tennessee ranked No. 1 last year in job creation from direct foreign job investment. Haslam fears such a law risks sending the wrong signal to companies like Volkswagen and Nissan, which have huge presences in Tennessee and whose executives often visit on federally issued temporary work or travel visas.
"We have a lot of people who are here that we're glad they're here," the Republican governor said, adding he hasn't yet seen the legislation.
"Volkswagen, Nissan — and I could keep on going. We have more foreign investment from Japan than any other state in the country other than California. We don't want to create something that would damage that," he said.
The bill's sponsors are Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, and Sen. Ed Jackson, R-Jackson.
The legislation says any new or renewed temporary driver license, permit or other identification issued by the Department of Safety and Homeland Security "shall include the language 'NON U.S. CITIZEN' or 'ALIEN' or a symbol or other language designed by the department that indicates the person is not a citizen of the United States and is not a lawful permanent resident of the United States."
It also directs that the "language or symbol shall be prominently displayed on the license, permit, or identification."
The Tennessean quoted Ragan as saying the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks were the reason for the legislation.
"The 19 hijackers from 9/11 were here on overstayed visas, so this is just intended to be another way of ensuring that we catch that if we can," he told the newspaper, saying it provides an extra security step.
"You never put just one barrier out there to stop an enemy, you put as many as you can," Ragan said. "This is just an additional check out there. It's not intended to be anything onerous but it is intended to be a little more obvious."
However, Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez, who killed five service members in a 2015 attack on a recruiting center and a support installation in Chattanooga, would not have been affected by Ragan's bill.
Abdulazeez, who the FBI said was "motivated by foreign terrorist organization propaganda," was a naturalized U.S. citizen who went to school here. His family said he had been experiencing mental problems.
Safety Department spokesman Wesley Moster told The Tennesseean it is "easy" to tell the difference between temporary and permanent driver's licenses, since the documents look different.
Ragan explained that by citing terms such as "Alien" or "Non-U.S. citizen" in the bill, he wanted to provide department officials the ability to decide what might fit on the driver's license.
And he sees no controversy in using terms like "alien" or "illegal alien."
"That means a stranger who is in our country in violation of the law," he said of the latter. "The sensitivities and micro- aggressions and all the other stuff that goes on around here mystify me."
During Republican Gov. Don Sundquist's administration, 1995-2003, Tennessee had a law allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses. It was later repealed.
The Republican- controlled General Assembly has introduced various measures in recent years targeting undocumented immigrants as well as legal visitors. That includes an unsuccessful bill aimed at Muslims and a measure that sought to require English-only driver license exams. That measure drew objections from the business community.
Last year, Republicans passed a law allowing them to sue over President Barack Obama's Syrian refugee policies. Now, Republican President Donald Trump's executive orders on refugees, immigration and travel visas have generated legal challenges and protests.
Nearly 1,000 foreign-owned companies have made Tennessee their home. The list includes German auto manufacturer Volkswagen, which has an assembly plant in Chattanooga, along with foreign-owned suppliers like Gestamp, a Spanish company, and Denso, a Japanese corporation.
Last year, Japan- headquartered Komatsu, which manufactures hydraulic excavators in Chattanooga, celebrated its 30th year in the city. Japan's Nissan has an auto-assembly plant in Smyrna, an engine plant in Decherd and its North American headquarters in Franklin.
Citing the 2016 IBM Global Location Trends report, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development officials boasted how the state ranked No. 1 in the nation for job creation resulting from foreign direct investment in 2015.
According to ECD, foreign-based companies have invested more than $33.3 billion in capital in Tennessee.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on twitter @AndySher1.