The Tennessee Conservative [By Adelia Kirchner] –
“Are you happy with the way the Tennessee legislature and Governor Lee are handling the Illegal Immigration Crisis in our state?” read a recent poll conducted by The Tennessee Conservative on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Poll results showed that 85% of participants answered “No” and the remaining 15% of participants answered “Yes.”
“When I see how other states are dealing with it, I am grateful to be in TN,” wrote one X user. “However, it could be way better. Seems Lee likes to ride the line instead of being ahead of the curve.”
“I don’t believe they’ve actually done anything,” stated another user. “I see a lot of people confusing activity with productivity. In their defense, the source of the problem is open borders.”
Yet another commenter was frustrated with the lack of transparency surrounding the issue of illegal immigration across the state.
“TN needs to give more information to the taxpayers,” they said. “How many illegal aliens are in TN? How many in our schools? All statistics and financial records. How is this affecting our medical system? We need a page on the TN website addressing [the] problem, just like we had info on Covid.”
While a social media poll may not be the most scientific method of gauging public opinion, it is indicative of what many Republican Primary voters think and shows that current opinion still lines up with the results of an official scientific poll that The Tennessee Conservative conducted back in 2021.
The results of which showed that an average of 97% responded “No” to a series of 7 questions on if Tennessee should be receiving and/or aiding illegal immigrants with housing, education, and jobs at the expense of taxpayers.
The data collected through this poll highlighted the viewpoints of conservative Tennesseans and was read into legislative record by Rep. Chris Todd (R-Madison County-District 73), during a committee meeting.
Typically, only about 1,000 responses are needed to achieve a +/-3% variance in a statewide poll. The Tennessee Conservative collected 2,322 responses for this one.
As it was reported at the time, “even if the dissenting opinions were TRIPLED” the survey results show that Tennesseans wanted their lawmakers to take action on the issue of illegal immigration.
However, some Tennessee Republicans have gone on to shut down several pieces of conservative legislation that would have done just that.
Noteworthy legislation from 2022 includes the following:
Bill to Stop TN Taxpayer Dollars from Funding Education for Illegal Immigrants
HB1648/SB2597, sponsored by Former Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris-District 75) and Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald-District 28), would have stopped taxpayers from being forced to fund education for illegal immigrants.
School systems would have also been given the choice of whether they wanted to enroll students with an illegal status.
This bill failed in the House K-12 Subcommittee with Republican Representatives Kirk Haston, Mark White and Chris Hurt voting against it.
Bill Allowing Local Law Officials to Enforce Federal Immigration Laws
HB2222/SB2264, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Powers (R-Jacksboro-District 36) and Sen. Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains-District 8), would have given local law enforcement the authority to enforce federal law and arrest anyone transporting, harboring, or facilitating the transport of illegal immigrants into Tennessee.
This bill failed in Senate Judiciary Committee with Republican Senators Todd Gardenhire, John Stevens, and Former Sen. Mike Bell voting against the bill.
Bill to Relocate Illegal Immigrants to the Home States of Biden, Harris, Pelosi, and Schumer
HB1994/SB2636, sponsored by Former Rep. Bruce Griffey and Sen. Frank Niceley, would have required the Commission of Safety to implement a system for the relocation of illegal immigrants who arrive in Tennessee to other locations.
This bill failed in the House Department and Agencies Subcommittee after it did not receive a second to move forward in committee.
Republican Representatives John B. Holsclaw, Rush Bricken, Dale Carr, Michelle Carringer, Kelly Keisling, and Former Rep. Curtis Halford all sat on this subcommittee.
E-Verification Bill to Weaken Job Magnets for Illegal Immigrants in TN
HB1636/SB2297, sponsored by Former Rep. Bruce Griffey, and Sen. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon-District 17), would have required certain employers to use an E-Verification program in their hiring process to verify legal status. It also established penalties for employers found to be in violation.
This bill was deferred to a summer study after Rep. Clark Boyd (R-Lebanon-District 46) cited preference for his own E-Verification bill that was not retroactive and prescribed no penalties for anyone found in violation of the law.
Bill Allowing non-U.S. Citizens to Receive Professional Licenses in TN
HB2309/SB2464, sponsored by Democrat Rep. Bob Freeman (Nashville-District 56) and Republican Sen. Shane Reeves (District 14), paved the way for non-U.S. citizens to obtain professional and commercial licenses in Tennessee, increasing magnets for illegal immigrants to migrate to and successfully reside in the state.
This bill passed in the legislature with the votes of 34 House Republicans and 15 Senate Republicans. It was also signed by Gov. Lee.
Noteworthy legislation from 2023 includes the following:
Bill Requiring Verification of Immigration Status for Potential Voters
HB0835/SB0137, sponsored by Rep. Bryan Richey (R-Maryville-District 20) and Sen. Joey Hensley, would have required the Coordinator of Elections to compare the statewide voter registration database with the Department of Safety database to ensure non-U.S. citizens are not registered to vote in Tennessee.
This bill was “hijacked” by the chairman of the House Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee, Rep. Gary Hicks (R-Rogersville-District 9) and taken off notice for the remainder of the session.
Bill Allowing Foreign Nationals to Become TN Police Officers
HB0056, sponsored by House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland-District 44) would have allowed all permanent residents, including non-citizens, to apply and be considered for positions in any Tennessee local law enforcement agency.
This bill received pushback from voters and was withdrawn before it acquired a Senate sponsor.
Bills Making it Easier for Employers to Replace TN Workers With Foreign Labor
HB0004/SB0151 & HB0260/SB0310, sponsored by Rep. Dale Carr (R-Sevierville-Sevier County) and Sen. Frank Niceley, would have allowed state and local government entities to forgo verification of a nonresident alien’s status, as long as the nonresident alien either held a valid J-1 visa, a valid H-2B visa, or a valid visa for participation in an international culinary internship program.
This would have defeated the point of established verification measures like the systematic alien verification for entitlements (SAVE) program or the student and exchange visitor information system (SEVIS).
This bill was also withdrawn after receiving pushback from voters.
Moving forward into the 2024 legislative session.
The Tennessee Conservative will be tracking new bills on illegal immigration to keep our readers updated on what their representatives are actually doing about the issue.
Sen. Brent Taylor (R-Memphis-District 31) for example, has already announced some key points he is hoping to address as a way to deal with crime in Tennessee.
One of these points would be to require that sheriffs provide notification to Immigration and Customs Enforcement when an illegal immigrant is taken into custody.
Sen. Taylor reportedly plans to start work on his proposals once the General Assembly begins their 2024 legislative session.
About the Author: Adelia Kirchner is a Tennessee resident and reporter for the Tennessee Conservative. Currently the host of Subtle Rampage Podcast, she has also worked for the South Dakota State Legislature and interned for Senator Bill Hagerty’s Office in Nashville, Tennessee. You can reach Adelia at firstname.lastname@example.org.