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Tennessee Passes New Immigration Law, Follows Arizona’s Footsteps

Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen (D) signed a bill yesterday that creates provisions similar to, but less harsh than, those of SB 1070, including requiring city and county jails in the state to report any person who may be in violation of immigration laws to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

A decision that follows recent state and local crackdowns on undocumented immigration — particularly Arizona's SB 1070 and a Nebraska town's vote to limit job and housing opportunities to undocumented immigrants — Bredesen's vote for Tennessee's House bill 670 isn't surprising.

A Nashville Public Radio article also points out that a recent poll claims most Tennesseans favor laws like the ones House bill 670 puts into place.

"When Tennesseans were asked if they would support a law like Arizona’s, 60 percent said yes," writes Emily Tseng of Nashville Public Radio. "Then, pollsters asked about a key provision of the law, whether police should be required to check the immigration status of a suspected illegal immigrant they’ve stopped. When Arizona wasn’t mentioned, support jumped to 79 percent."

Tennessee also has a history of laws cracking down on undocumented immigrants. In 2007, lawmakers proposed over 40 changes to state law that targeted undocumented immigrants. That same year, Bredesen signed a bill that allows the state to deny, suspend or revoke the employers' business licenses if they knowingly employ undocumented immigrants. Earlier this month, Bredesen allowed a resolution that applauded Arizona on their new immigration to pass without his signature.

The basis of the Tennessee law is clearly not as harsh as Arizona's. After all, Tennessee's provision focuses on questioning the immigration status of only those actually arrested. But under the bill, local law enforcement agencies are even required to contact federal immigration officials if the citizenship of a person in custody can not be confirmed within three days — something that concerns civil rights groups because it could potentially affect Americans who simply aren't able to produce evidence of their legal status. The bill does, however, require the state to develop of a standardized procedure for verifying the citizenship status of anyone who's arrested.

Sponsored by two Republicans, the legislation first passed the House in May 2009, but it died in the Senate. It was called up for a floor vote in May this year, and it finally passed in early June. The ACLU and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition had previously asked Bredesen, who has said he does have some concerns, to veto the bill. HB 670 will go into effect Jan. 1, 2011.

Julissa Treviño is a staff writer for Campus Progress. She graduated from Ithaca College in 2009.

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