WPLN News Transcripts
Republicans Say Governor Left Void on Immigration
February 19th, 2008
Governor Phil Bredesen was silent on the illegal immigration issue in his State of the State address last month, so Republican lawmakers are promoting a variety of bills they say target the problem.
The bills include requiring a photo ID to vote, requiring English-only driver’s license tests, protecting English-only workplaces, and verifying that workers are legal residents.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, the Republican leader in the upper chamber, says his party is working with business interests to refine the illegal-worker bill, which punishes employers who “knowingly” accept forged documents. Ramsey says he wants to make sure businesses aren’t “accidentally punished.”
“You should be punished if you did it on purpose. The fine line is – how do you define knowingly?”
A survey by the Tennessee chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business shows that 73-percent of its members would support a bill that places a 5-thousand dollar civil penalty on employers who knowingly hire illegal workers. State director Jim Brown:
“I think the concern here in Tennessee is that we don’t replicate what we’re seeing in some of these other states, where we see employers being looked upon as the bad guy. The employers are there to work the process the way they’re supposed to, with the documentation that they’re supposed to collect, and I think it’s up to the federal government to make sure that process is pristine, and it’s not, right now.”
Brown says the federal government must start doing a better job of verifying documentation and running its visa program. He says immigration really is a federal issue, not a state one, and that it must be solved on a federal level.
Tennessee Republican lawmakers addressed the problem after State Representative Glen Casada, who chairs the House GOP caucus, outlined the Republican view:
“Illegal immigration is a burden on the citizens of the state, both from our education system, our law enforcement, and our health care system. And to turn your back on it, to ignore it, is not a solution. Granted the federal government should be acting in this area but we’re not. Tennessee is a commonwealth and we must do what we can to defend our state and the taxpayers of this state.”
The NFIB’s Jim Brown agrees with Representative Casada on one big issue – the feds should have acted before now.
Brown has specific examples of problems with the current temporary worker visa system.
“We had a landscaper in Millington call me last week, and he’s been using the H2b visa program for the last seven or eight years, and he’s really been able to grow his landscaping business, he’s found workers, legally, the right way. He has a friend who’s in the same business and does the exact same thing, and this visa program has worked until this year. They were denied his year. So he’s about to start the season in a few months without any workers, he’s competing against people he believes are knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, so he’s at a disadvantage already, for competing for jobs. And now he doesn’t have any workers. It really is, we have a failed system here. And it’s a federal issue, it’s not a state issue, I don’t think anything anyone can do here at the state level will fix that.”
Brown says his National Federation of Independent Business has a four-part national agenda:
1. An E-verify system that works, one that business owners can have confidence in. The current system has errors 15 to 20 percent of the time, he says.
2. Securing the border – “I don’t think many people disagree with that,” he says.
3. Illegal immigrants who are here should “go home and come back,” through a more modern process, because, he says,
4. The visa program which now supports “guest workers” doesn’t support today’s economy.
The General Assembly in 2007 passed SB 202/HB 729, which became Public Chapter 529. That law authorizes the revocation of a business licenseif the business has hired an illegal alien. Sources in state and local government say they are not aware that any business has been prosecuted under the law.
By Joe White