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VOL. 126 | NO. 73 | Thursday, April 14, 2011

Immigration Bills Advance in Tenn. House

LUCAS L. JOHNSON II | Associated Press

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NASHVILLE (AP) – Opponents of a proposal that would allow law enforcement agents in Tennessee to question suspects about their immigration status are concerned it will hurt the state's image.

The measure was one of three immigration bills sponsored by Republican Rep. Joe Carr of Lascassas that passed the House State and Local Government Committee on a voice vote Tuesday.

The other bills would require the state's employers to prove their employees are legally authorized to work in the U.S., and require agencies to verify that applicants for public benefits are legally eligible for them.

Critics compare the law enforcement bill to the one in Arizona that passed last year and is currently the subject of a federal lawsuit.

Carr said the proposal is different from the Arizona legislation in that local law enforcement officials wouldn't be able to make an arrest if an individual couldn't provide legal documents.

Under his bill, if there was reasonable suspicion, authorities would call an immigration enforcement hot line to find out if the person was legally in the country.

However, opponents of the proposal say it could hurt tourism in the state and cause racial profiling.

"I'm afraid ... we're putting it out there that we're following Arizona's lead," said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville. "I'm afraid we're going to have some overzealous officers. I do not want to give tools to someone who would do that."

Democratic Rep. Antonio Parkinson of Memphis agreed.

"I think this bill is going to create an atmosphere in Tennessee that we don't want," he said.

American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee executive director Hedy Weinberg has said that her group will pursue litigation if the enforcement bill becomes law.

She told the committee the state should not be dealing with immigration, "but the federal government should."

Her statement seemed to agitate committee chairman Curry Todd, who said the federal government is irresponsible when it comes to the issue.

"We wouldn't be here if the federal government would do their job; Obama and the rest of them up there," said the Collierville Republican. "That's why the states are getting involved in it."

According to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures, states passed 346 immigration-related laws and resolutions last year – a record number. Six states introduced bills similar to Arizona's, but none of them were enacted. So far this year, 11 states have introduced Arizona-style bills.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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