Nation - Tennessee ACLU wants veto on immigrants in jail legislation

By Travis Loller

Associated Press Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee is asking Gov. Phil Bredesen to veto a bill that would require the state's jailers to determine whether inmates are in the country illegally and report them if they are.

ACLU-TN Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said the legislation will encourage racial profiling.

"Who will have to prove citizenship? Latinos or others who might look or sound foreign," Weinberg said. "... The bottom line is this type of legislation effectively creates a police state because it requires individuals to carry documentation with them at all times (to avoid harassment)."

Sponsors say the bill is necessary because not all jurisdictions are sharing information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement when they arrest someone they suspect is illegally in the country.

Senate sponsor Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, said she does not believe jailers and deputies will engage in racial profiling. Speaking of the ACLU, she said, "They evidently don't have a lot of respect for Tennessee law enforcement."

Not all sheriffs are happy with the bill. Cheatham County Sheriff John Holder said he is concerned about where the money will come from to carry it out. No funding is included.

Sumner County Sheriff Bob Barker, who is the legislative chair for the Tennessee Sheriffs' Association, said another concern has been the potential for lawsuits. On Tuesday he said he thinks the state's Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, which has been tasked with developing written rules and procedures for the immigration checks, can develop standards that will minimize that potential.

The governor has until Monday to decide whether to sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature. Bredesen spokeswoman Lydia Lenker said on Tuesday that Bredesen had not had a chance to study it.

On Friday, Bredesen allowed a resolution commending Arizona on that state's controversial new immigration law to be transmitted without his signature.

The Arizona law requires authorities to question people about their immigration status if there's reason to suspect they're in the country illegally. The Tennessee resolution, passed earlier this month, congratulates Arizona lawmakers and Gov. Jan Brewer for "their actions to protect their citizens and the borders of our great nation."

The Arizona law has brought condemnation and boycotts as well as accolades.

Meanwhile, Bredesen has until Wednesday to decide whether to sign another immigration-related bill. This one changes the law to state that it is not discriminatory for employers to adopt English-only policies where there are legitimate business reasons for them.

Beverly Watts, executive director of the Tennessee Human Rights Commission, which enforces employment rights in the state, has criticized the bill, saying it may create problems for employers. Employers can require their workers speak English, but those policies have to be narrowly crafted. They cannot demand that workers speak English while on break, for example.

Sen. Jack Johnson, a Franklin Republican who sponsored the bill, said he has faith that Tennessee employers are smart enough to tailor their policies appropriately.

Published: Thu, Jun 24, 2010