On Wednesday, the Tennessee Senate and House approved a bill which requires jails in Tennessee to send information to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement regarding prisoners who don't have documentation that they are in the U.S. legally.
State Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville and State Sen. Diane Black of Gallatin, both of whom are Republican candidates for the Sixth District U.S. House of Representatives seat, were both sponsors of the legislation, which had become a political football between them. Tracy had criticized Black for an amendment to exempt counties in her district from the bill; Black said the sheriffs in those counties had asked to be exempted due to concerns about lawsuits which might be filed as a result of the law.
Another candidate, Lou Ann Zelenik of Murfreesboro, issued a news release on Sunday criticizing both Tracy and Black for "political games" over the issue. Zelenik accused Tracy of having tried to exempt Bedford County from the law as a result of the Tyson Foods plant here. Tracy denied that an exemption was ever proposed for Bedford County. Tracy did, last year, propose an exemption for Rutherford County, but only because Rutherford County was trying at the time to qualify for the 287(g) immigration enforcement program, which has more stringent requirements with which the bill might have interfered. Tracy withdrew that exemption when Rutherford County failed to qualify for 287(g)
Black later withdrew the exemption requests and instead added an amendment that the Police Officers Standard Training (POST) Commission develop standards for implementation of the policies, which she said would help prevent any lawsuits.
"Illegal immigration is a huge problem which cost taxpayers a fortune," said Tracy in a news release. "We must get information about criminals in our jails, who are not in the U.S. legally, to federal officials to protect our citizens."
The news release noted that Tracy introduced, and passed, a resolution congratulating Arizona for its recent and controversial immigration enforcement initiatives.
"Every state is a border state and every town a border town," said Tracy. "We must continue to fight for common-sense illegal immigration legislation that will help us take back our streets."
"Washington has failed to control our borders and so we as state leaders must take action," said Black in a news release. "This is a tough, statewide standard that will ensure that America's immigration laws will be enforced at the local level. We have to stop illegal immigration in this country and if Washington won't, we in Tennessee will."
The bill does not apply to any local government which is already working with ICE or Homeland Security under a program like 287(g) with more stringent standards.
If Gov. Phil Bredesen signs the bill, it will take effect Jan. 1, 2011.