Anti-immigrant bills spark outrage in Tennessee immigration organizations

By: - February 9, 2022 7:00 am
Rep. Bruce Griffey, R-Paris, is sponsoring three bills targeting immigrants. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Rep. Bruce Griffey, R-Paris. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Four Republican-sponsored bills, including one seeking to prevent undocumented children from attending public school, are sparking outrage among supporters of immigrants and immigrant rights. 

Rep. Bruce Griffey, R-Paris, is sponsoring HB1648, that would allow local educational agencies or public charter schools to deny enrollment to students based on their immigration status. If a child cannot prove their legal status, the bill seeks to remove their state education funding, forcing local school districts to bear the financial responsibility.

“I think the content of the bill is ludicrous,” said Nat Morales, spokesperson for the TIRRC Votes.

If it passes, it would almost certainly provoke a lawsuit. In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Plyler v. Doe that state officials cannot constitutionally deny students a free public education based on their immigration status. 

TIRRC expects the bill to be delayed, but “it’s really just buying Griffey and his colleagues more time to try to figure out how to bring attention to this bill,” said Morales.

“Either kill this bill or bring it up for a vote and let legislators vote it down,” they added.  

Two other bills, both sponsored by Griffey, also target undocumented people.

At the end of the day, (these bills) are perpetuating a narrative in the state legislature that not only do we feel that immigration and refugees deserve better but in general, Tennesseans deserve better.

– Nat Morales, Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition

HB1994 seeks to develop and implement a system in order to relocate undocumented people to somewhere outside the state, and HB1636 seeks to expand the current mandatory e-verify program, which requires employers to verify their worker’s identification.

Greg Siskind, an attorney with Siskind Susser PC, a Memphis immigation firm, said Tennessee already has an expansive, mandatory E-verify program. 

“E-verify is one of the tools that states have to punish employers that are perceived violating immigration laws,” said Siskind. 

Federal law requires new employees to fill out an I-9 form in order to prove their identity and prove their right to work in the U.S.

“I don’t know how much change they think they’re going to bring with this legislation,” said Siskind. 

Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro (Tennessee General Assembly)

A fourth piece of legislation, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro, HJR0652, urges Congress to complete a wall  between the U.S. and Mexico.

“At the end of the day, it’s perpetuating a narrative in the state legislature that not only do we feel that immigration and refugees deserve better, but in general, Tennesseans deserve better,” said Morales.

On a federal level, immigration-rights advocates are still awaiting immigration reform from President Joe Biden, who campaigned on promises to create paths for citizenship but has yet to deliver.

“We’re not going to stop pushing for federal immgiration reform because that’s something that has been a decades-long promise from Congress,” said Morales. 

“And while we continue to do that, we will also continue to see what we can do on a state level,” they added.

Griffey could not be reached for comment. TIRRC represenatives say he has also not responded to their requests for information on whether he plans to delay his bill targeting undocumented students.


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Dulce Torres Guzman
Dulce Torres Guzman

Dulce has written for the Nashville Scene and Crucero News. A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, she received the John Seigenthaler Award for Outstanding Graduate in Print Journalism in 2016. Torres Guzman is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She enjoys the outdoors and is passionate about preserving the environment and environmental issues.