TN GOP Senate Immigration Legislation 2011-2018


Illegal Aliens & Driver Licenses – Requires any applicant presenting a driver’s license from a state that issues them to illegal aliens, to establish proof of United States citizenship or legal residency when applying for one in Tennessee. Affects applicants from twelve states which issue a driver’s license to illegal aliens, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Vermont, and Washington.

Senate Bill 272 / by Pody, Bowling, Green, Stevens 

Banning Sanctuary Cities – Ensures that state and local government entities are prohibited from adopting or enacting sanctuary policies, whether they are in written form or not, which shield illegal aliens from state and federal immigration laws. It addresses a gap in previous law and puts teeth in it.  •  The legislation expands the definition of what a sanctuary city is beyond a written policy in order to ensure cooperation with federal authorities and to ensure no city ordinances hamper these efforts It also creates a reporting mechanism for residents to make a complaint. In addition, the proposal puts teeth in the law by cutting off economic and community grant money to any Tennessee city that adopts policies which are in violation.  •  It  states no law enforcement officer shall consider an individual’s race, color or national origin in complying with requirements of this act.

Senate Bill 2332 / by Green, Bell, Ketron, Roberts, Pody, Southerland, Bowling, Jackson, Gresham, Reeves, Hensley, Lundberg / Status: Transmitted to Governor on 5/10 / Effective Date:

ID Cards  –  Prohibits local governments from issuing identification (ID) cards which can, in turn, be used as a government ID card.  This is a preemptive measure to ensure that abuses seen in other cities in the U.S. to issue government identification cards to illegal aliens are not implemented in Tennessee.

Senate Bill 2333 / by Green, Bell, Hensley 

Resolution Urging Action on President Trump’s Proposed Border Wall — Urges the U.S. Congress to immediately take action to fund the construction of a secure border wall across the nation’s southern border as proposed by President Donald Trump. It states “the members of this General Assembly have consistently taken steps to address illegal immigration within the borders of our great state and now wish to urge the United States Congress to address illegal immigration by supporting President Trump’s border wall proposal.”

House Joint Resolution 741 / by Green 

Voter Integrity – Aims to ensure only eligible Tennessee voters participate in Tennessee elections. Under this bill, local election commissions will receive lists of people who are disqualified from jury duty because they have moved, are noncitizens, been convicted of a felony or have passed away. Election officials would then use this information to determine if the person should still be an active, registered voter in that county.

Senate Bill 1808 / by Ketron 


Welfare / Fraud — Legislation designed to combat welfare fraud in Tennessee received final approval.  The Program Integrity Act of 2017 requires agencies within state government to communicate with each other to identify people who are receiving benefits for which they are not eligible.

The law creates a new system of enhanced verification in Tennessee, requiring the Department of Human Services (DHS) to conduct quarterly data matches against information databases to help eliminate fraudulent payments that are being made.  It also authorizes DHS to join a multistate cooperative for identifying individuals who currently receive Tennessee benefits but who live in other states.  In addition, the Bureau of TennCare is required to verify wage and income information, immigration status, and vital records information for each applicant or enrollee once their new automated electronic eligibility system is operational.  The state has been continuing development of the Tennessee Eligibility Determination System (TEDS) to help detect those who misuse the welfare system.

The legislation also requires the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation to make a monthly report to DHS of all individuals who collect a prize of more than $5,000 to ensure that those who exceed income requirements do not continue to collect taxpayer-supported payments. Studies estimate Tennessee loses approximately $123 million per year in fraudulent payments to people who are not qualified to receive benefits.

Senate Bill 365 / by Roberts, Stevens, Bailey, Haile

Convicted Criminals / Unlawfully in the U.S. — Another key bill passed by the General Assembly in 2017 allows courts in Tennessee to enhance the sentence of a convicted criminal who is unlawfully in the U.S.  This statute creates a new enhancement factor that a judge can consider in sentencing if the defendant was illegally or unlawfully in the U.S. at the time the offense was committed.

Senate Bill 1260 / by Norris, Bell, Stevens, Bailey, Bowling, Crowe, Gardenhire, Hensley, Niceley 


Immigration Policy — A resolution was approved during the 2016 legislative session urging the President and Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration policy that protects American society, favors U.S. citizens and lawful residents in receiving public benefits and compensates the state for any financial burdens from illegal immigrants.  The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) released a study showing that illegal immigration now costs Tennessee taxpayers $285 million a year for K-12 education, health care for illegals and for incarceration of criminal illegal aliens.  The purpose of the resolution is to make sure that the federal government, “first protect Americans from the decline in public safety, education and our standards of living.”

House Joint Resolution 70 by Bailey 

Students with F-1 or M-1 VisasLegislation was passed this year authorizing the Commissioner of the Department of Safety and Homeland Security to issue a subpoena for valid law enforcement purposes to an institution of higher education regarding students who are in Tennessee on F-1 or M-1 visas.  The purpose of the new statute is to give the Department of Safety and Homeland Security more information about those students who are here on a student visa but are not attending classes.

F-1 visa and M-1 visa are the two categories of visas that are issued to international students who wish to study in the U.S.  The subpoena would compel the production of the following information from higher education institutions in Tennessee: the number of non-immigrant students who possess an F-1 or M-1 visa for instruction enrolled at an institution at the beginning and end of a period of study; and the names and addresses of non-immigrant students who were enrolled at the beginning of a period of study, but were not enrolled at the end of the period of study.  

Senate Bill 2394  by Bailey Beavers, Bowling, Crowe, Gresham, Haile, Hensley, Ketron, Niceley, Norris, Roberts, Stevens, Tracy, Watson

E-Verify / Lawful Employment – Legislation which puts more teeth in Tennessee’s E-Verify law to ensure that new hires are in the state legally was approved during the 2016 legislative session.  The new law targets bad actors who find it more advantageous to pay a one-time $500 fine for hiring illegal aliens than to follow Tennessee’s Lawful Employment Act passed in 2011.

Recent reports have shown the system is working, but there is still room for improvements particularly in dealing with bad actors who would rather pay a fine than follow the law.  All Tennessee employers with six or more employees must keep a copy of an employee’s or new hire’s driver’s license or listed identity/employment authorization documents showing that he or she is in the U.S. legally.  This legislation makes it mandatory for a company with 50 or more employees to use the E-Verify system beginning January 1, 2017.

E-Verify is an Internet-based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the Social Security Administration that allows participating employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of newly hired employees by entering their name and a social security number.  It is free to employers in all 50 states, including Tennessee.  The E-Verify system has a 97 percent accuracy rate.

The new statute also strengthens penalties for companies who are knowingly discarding the E-Verify system.  It creates an additional $500 civil penalty per day if the employer fails to use E-Verify or provide an affidavit of undue hardship.

In addition, the legislation shortens the number of days that an employer has to remedy a non-compliance finding after receipt of an initial order for violation of the state’s E-Verify requirements from 60 to 45.

Senate Bill 1965 by Tracy, Roberts, Stevens 


Illegal Aliens / Public Benefits — Legislation authorizing state departments or agencies to verify the lawful status of an alien in Tennessee passed during the 2012 session of the Tennessee General Assembly.  Under the “Eligibility Verification for Entitlements Act,” the agency could prohibit an unlawful alien who is an adult from receiving any “non-emergency” taxpayer-provided benefits in Tennessee.  The new law does not apply to pre-natal care.

Senate Bill 1325 / Johnson, Southerland, Beavers, Tracy, Roberts, Bell, Campfield, Ketron, Ramsey

Illegal Aliens / Risk of Flight — The General Assembly voted to approve a measure that allows the court clerk to set bail for traffic violations at a higher amount than normally permitted for a defendant who is unlawfully present in the U.S. and is deemed a risk of flight.

Senate Bill 2604 / House Bill 2678 / Beavers, Roberts 

Illegal Aliens / Risk of Flight – Similarly, the legislature passed a bill requiring an officer to arrest a driver involved in an accident that results in serious bodily injury or death when the driver lacks a valid driver’s license and evidence of financial responsibility.  Senate Bill 2350 prohibits the issuance of a citation in lieu of an arrest in such circumstances due to the risk of flight.   The bill is named the “Ricky Otts Act.”  Mr. Otts was killed by an unlicensed driver who was suspected of being in the country illegally and failed to appear in court after the deadly crash.

Senate Bill 2350 / House Bill 2466 / Beavers, Roberts, Tracy


Foreign Refugees / Resettlement – Legislation was passed requiring any entity or agency that administers the state’s refugee program to submit quarterly reports to state and local governments and appropriate legislative committees regarding certain resettlement information.  The new law is designed to give city, county and state authorities information to help them plan for a variety of needs, including any demands on the education system or emergency services.  Refugees are located as part of a federal government program to resettle those who have left their home country due to political or religious persecution.

Last year about 1,800 refugees from 14 different countries were moved into Tennessee, with the same amount predicted this year.   It does allow cities or counties to send a letter of request to stop the placement of additional refugees if the local community feels they cannot absorb any more refugees in their community. The letter is sent to the placement agency and the U.S. State Department for consideration of the local community’s request.

Senate Bill 1670 / Tracy, Yager, Crowe, Johnson

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