Why I Now Support Bredesen’s “Prove Your Citizenship” Bill

I’ve changed my mind. I’m sorry this is going to suck, really hard, for some people, but I cannot wait to see this implemented. And I’ll tell you why. This is going to be hilarious.

Here’s the thing. This is being sold as something like 287(g) for the whole state. Except communities that have 287(g) have a relationship with the Feds, who can actually do something about immigration. So, if Davidson County says “We have these five guys whose citizenship we cannot verify,” there’s someone on the other end to say “Okay, hold them for us” or “Don’t keep them on our account.”

Nothing in HB0607 outlines any reciprocity with any federal agency. In fact–and people, I am not even kidding you–all it does is establish that, if a local law enforcement agency cannot determine someone’s immigration status, they have to send a fax to Homeland Security saying as much.

Yes, send a fax. To Homeland Security.

The bill doesn’t even say to which department the fax should be sent (as far as I can tell, your best bet would be ICE’s Law Enforcement Support Center in Vermont, though they’re set up to deal mostly with violent criminals and they are but one office. I’m sure they’ll love being flooded with faxes concerning traffic stops). And then, it doesn’t say what should happen next. Do the jailers hold the person until someone at Homeland Security faxes them back? How long will that take? How much is that going to cost taxpayers? At least under 287(g), a participating department gets reimbursed by the Feds for the cost of holding someone. But this law makes no such arrangement with the Feds.

I honestly cannot believe that this law requires a fax be sent to some unspecified place, doesn’t outline what should happen to the person about whom the fax is sent, and this is going to be sold by politicians as a great victory against illegal immigration.

You have to laugh. They care so much about illegal immigration that they have to pass and sign these laws, but not enough to actually specify where the fax in question should be sent?

No one on the Hill can even put in the 10 minutes on their computer it would take to try to track down to whom to send the fax?

And here’s the thing. The Governor isn’t stupid. So, he signs this bill because he knows it’s a vague cluserfuck. I mean, really. Send a fax to Homeland Security. That’s like saying the directions for getting to Tuscon are “Drive west.”

And after that?

Once folks have sent their faxes?

Do they detain those folks until they hear back from Homeland Security? And, if so, who pays for that? And, if not, then what was the point of the fax? If they do have to hold them, who pays for transporting them to a Federal immigration judge? There’s nothing in the law about who foots that bill.

But it’s you and me, folks. They can claim all they want that they didn’t raise our taxes, but forcing our localities to raise our taxes to pay for crap the state legislature put through is, in fact, raising our taxes. It’s just being cowardly about it.

26 thoughts on “Why I Now Support Bredesen’s “Prove Your Citizenship” Bill

  1. Pingback: Just the fax, ma’am : Post Politics: Political News and Views in Tennessee

  2. Oh, excuse me. You’ve found a place to fax. Have you made them aware of that?

    Congrats. Who’s going to foot the bill for the detention? Or the lawsuits? You’re still dumping that on local municipalities.

  3. I read the bill, and it looks like something drawn up by Hedley Lamarr and signed by William J. Le Petomane.

    Who’s going to foot the bill for this? Can the state afford to spring for the extra personnel and resources necessary to handle the time-consuming tasks of baby-sitting possible undocumented immigrants and handling the communication with the Feds? Or is this an unfunded mandate being forced onto counties and local jurisdictions? I know you’re not expecting the Feds to pay for this, given how beholden they currently are to the deficit scolds.

    Also, if someone posts bond for a misdemeanor, but can’t readily verify their citizenship status, do they have to wait in the lockup until the “standardized written procedure” is implemented?

    Finally, looking at sections (c) and (d), one might think that this is blackmailing counties and jurisdictions into achieving the statuses indicated in those sections, or is assuming that the number of counties and jurisdictions not already covered by (c) and (d) is so minute as to make the whole bill superfluous.

    Could it be that I’m overthinking this, and that the whole thing has no practical purpose beyond pandering to nativist and anti-immigrant sentiments in the run-up to election season?

  4. My thanks to Rep. Dennis for posting the link. I don’t like the bill and don’t agree with the bill, but I didn’t know that for sure until I actually read the bill. It’s much better to argue over the actual facts than to argue over someone else’s interpretation of the facts.

    There’s a lot of things I hate about the internet, but one of the best things about it is quick access to the actual documents, so that you can read them yourself and draw your own conclusions.

  5. Aunt B and Sam,

    The law does not allow or require local law enforcement to detain anyone. It requires them to notify the local ICE field office if they believe a defendant on a state criminal charge may be in violation of federal immigration laws. The POST commission is going to develop a uniform means of ascertaining when to send the notification and a means of notification that requires little time and effort. After receiving notification of a potential violation of federal law, ICE can further investigate the individual and decide how to proceed. If ICE issues a “hold” on an individual they will reimburse local law enforcement for the cost of detention.
    There should be no significant cost to local law enforcement when implementing this new notification procedure.

  6. Are you serious?

    Bwah ha ha ha ha ha ha.

    No one is going to be detained? Every police department in the state is required to contact ICE if they can’t verify someone’s citizenship. But you expect us to believe that’s not going to cause any kind of back-up at ICE? And if you don’t detain those people until you hear back from ICE, what’s the point in contacting ICE in the first place?

    And you still haven’t answered the question of who’s going to foot the bill for the lawsuits. If Jose and John are both pulled over for, say, reckless driving and neither one can produce a driver’s license, you can’t have police departments deciding to arrest Jose in order to run him through the system while they let John go, because one is more “obviously” likely to be illegal or police departments are going to get sued.

    You think those lawsuits are just going to stay at a local level or don’t you think the state is going to be dragged into it, since it’s a state law?

    Like I said, I’m all in favor of it. It’s going to be a hilarious mess. I’m only sorry for the people who will be harassed under this.

    Not that that’s a problem for you. Y’all got, what, about 1% Hispanic folks in your district? You get to go home having won a victory against a boogey man. The chances of you having to face and be accountable to the people who are affected by your law are slim and none.

  7. Rep. Dennis, if you think personnel at Tennessee’s jails don’t already have more than they can say grace over, I suspect you haven’t been to a jail lately. As a lawyer who occasionally has to meet with clients in jails around Middle Tennessee, I promise you the staffs are busy all the time.

    Adding work for them to do without adding staff or resources is going to cause a problem, plain and simple. Was there a fiscal note attached to your bill?

    This concern, of course, ignores the greater concern: why should county jailers be tasked to report suspected violations of federal law if they have no power to do anything about such violations — i.e., detaining or arresting the violators? I hope you will forgive me if I say it looks on the surface like election year politics to adopt an anti-illegal-immigration law that has almost no chance of affecting illegal immigration.

  8. Rep. Dennis, I certainly hope you aren’t campaigning at home for “smaller government” or “keeping ‘government’ out of our lives” or any other permutation of the “limited government” talking points after putting this bill forth.

  9. Yeah, it makes me think of the first time I went to Spain. Which is a place I love, love, love in many ways. But I was startled — no, actually I was shocked — to find people being stopped by the Guardia Civil and told to produce their national ID card. I remember how smug and superior I felt as a U.S. citizen. All that “we don’t have to go around back home proving who we are to our own government; we’re a free people” stuff. And now y’all want us to be just like Europe, huh?

  10. Mark,

    I too get to visit jails regularly, as I am the only criminal defense attorney in the entire legislature. I anticipate the POST commission developing a procedure similar to what Sheriff Barker in Sumner County does. He advised me that the time it takes to notify ICE is minimal, and he usually hears something back from them in around 30 minutes. Therefore, defendants will most likely still be in the booking process when/if ICE issues a hold, since it normally takes several hours at a minimum between arrest and release on bond. If a defendant makes bond before a hold is issued, the defendant can be subsequently detained at the next court date.

    The fiscal note on the bill was “not significant”. In reality, I believe the law will actually save money for local governments, because ICE will be picking up the tab for those they issue a hold for, instead of the county paying for their incarceration prior to trial.

    Aunt B,

    Many law enforcement agencies already do what this bill requires. If ICE doesn’t have the manpower necessary to process reports of criminal defendants suspected of being illegal aliens, they need to be hiring.

    One of the reasons we required the POST commission to establish uniform guidelines was to minimize the potential for incorrect application and abuse. All police powers carry the potential for abuse, and I believe the threat of litigation is one of the balancing forces that will ensure that the reporting requirements this law institutes will be applied fairly.

    Guys, I’ve been working on this bill for two years. I have analyzed it from every angle imaginable, and I believe it to be a well-crafted means of ensuring cooperation between state, local, and federal law enforcement officials in the enforcement of our federal immigration laws. Opinions vary, of course, and if anyone out there comes up with a better way for our State to assist ICE in its duties then let me know. However, if you just don’t like our federal immigration laws and don’t want us to cooperate with ICE, then we are going to have to agree to disagree.

    And, for what it’s worth Aunt B., since this law applies equally to all residents of this State, I am now and will always be accountable to all the citizens of my district, and possibly even more so to those this law may adversely affect, since I may wind up representing defendants whose alleged criminal action gets their identities reported to ICE.

  11. Well, B., I for one am thoroughly satisfied that Rep. Dennis has covered all the bases on Tennessee’s massive, debilitating crisis of criminal illegal aliens. Huzzah!

    Perhaps now he can spare a few moments to try and deal with the small potatoes, like Tennessee’s looming billion-dollar deficit.

  12. Ah, so you’re not a public defender. Therefore, you stand to profit from the passage of your own bill. Have you analyzed the whole “conflict of interest” angle?

  13. Sam,

    Working on those spuds. Let you know what I come up with in February.


    I don’t do immigration law, so no profit there. As for state criminal charges, this bill doesn’t affect them in any way, so no way to profit there either. Contrary to public perception, not all politicians are in office for financial gain. Some of us do actually want to make this State a better place to live, work, and raise a family.

  14. Really? And how, exactly, does ensuring that every brown person in our state gets a little extra legal attention every time he or she comes to the attention of the police making the state a better place to live, work, and raise a family?

    Better for whom?

    Listen, there’s no sense in arguing about this. You think what you’re doing is right. I think what you’re doing is a needless and cruel burden on the Hispanic people in our state who are here legally, just to catch a few folks you think ICE is not getting to quickly enough.

    The potential for abuse with this legislation, regardless of any procedures put into places, is just too great for me to ever be comfortable with this.

    And you best believe that I will be watching like a hawk when this is implemented and when the abuse allegations start to come out, I’ll expect you to have a genuine response, because it’s on you.

    What goes wrong with this–you own it.

  15. Rep. Dennis – first off, I want to thank you for being willing to step into the fray as you have, respectfully and directly. It’s refreshing and heartening to see this sort of dialogue take place without the discussion devolving into insults.

    All that said, I really would like to know how you reconcile this sort of legislation with your party’s broader platform of smaller government.

  16. Rep. Dennis: While we will have to agree to disagree on this subject, I appreciate your courteous responses.

    Having said that, I tend to agree with Betsy on this one. To paraphrase Colin Powell’s advice to Pres. Bush before invading Iraq, once you’ve broken it, you own it. In my judgment, your bill starts us down a path I think it would be wiser not to walk.

    I understand that many people claim to be dissatisfied with federal policy on immigration. To me, the remedy for that is to change federal law or federal practice — not to attempt to preempt the feds by adopting 50 balkanized enforcement standards which will surely differ from state to state.

    It’s hard for me to see how there can be two opinions about this: immigration policy is a federal issue. You wouldn’t challenge any other aspect of American foreign relations on a state-to-state basis — for example, you wouldn’t attempt to have the state of Tennessee open up diplomatic relations with North Korea even if you were convinced that the present US diplomatic position was incorrect. Nor would you introduce a resolution to declare a state of war between Tennessee and Iran. Why treat this single area of national policy different that all others?

    If you are sincere in your views (and I have no evidence to indicate you are not), perhaps your time would be better spent running for Congress in order to espouse your point of view in what is, in my judgment, the proper forum. This is not a matter to which the Tennessee General Assembly, with all the problems facing this state, should devote another instant of its time.

  17. Rep. Dennis, so you’re OK with Hispanic citizens of the U.S. needing to prove their citizenship at all times? Although many of them, in fact, may have had ancestors in this country longer than yours? You’re really comfortable setting up a class of second-class citizens based on physical characteristics? Because I can’t see any way for this law to be implemented that doesn’t do that: see here for links to a bunch of examples of laws like this being dreadfully abused, and of non-white citizens being discriminated against.

  18. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees all Americans – including Hispanic Americans – a right to equal protection under the law.

    If someone’s surname is “Rodriguez,” and if that person doesn’t have fluency in English, that doesn’t amount to probable cause to ask for proof of citizenship. Full stop.

    Which is to say: All of this “ich papiere bitte” legislation would be funny if it weren’t so transparently pathetic. This isn’t about immigration per se – it’s about Mexicans.

    I always hear the 12 MILLION (MEXICANS!!!1!!) HERE ILLEGALLY number when 287(g) is talked about. Really? How many Canadians are here without a visa? Why is that not a problem, exactly? Don’t Canadians compete with you for jobs? Let me guess… Canadians are more honest, they’re not like “those people.” Something like that.

    So, in complete fairness, I suggest that everyone starts to carry a passport (assuming you have one).

    Because if I’m a cop, for all I know, you’re a f*cking Canadian here illegally and you need to be treated like a f*cking criminal until I see f*cking concrete proof to the f*cking contrary.

    Asking everybody to produce ID is the fairest way to implement this legislation. But the proponents of this legislation, if they’re being honest, are not interested at all in fairness.

  19. Andy – shouldn’t that be “ihre papiere, bitte?”

    “Ich” means “I.” “Ihre” means “Your.”

  20. As I interpret the legislation, and as Rep. Dennis explains it, it doesn’t appear to cast nearly as wide a net as Arizona’s ridiculous legislation. It appears to apply solely to people who are already in police custody on suspicion of other violations. According to what I read and according to Rep. Dennis’s explanation, the plan as written should not cost Tennessee taxpayers a dime, since the implication is that communication mechanisms are already in place to handle both the flow of info with the Feds and the Feds’ covering the cost of extended detainment where applicable.

    That said, I recall a certain Paul Wolfowitz claiming that Iraq’s oil revenues would pay for the invasion, destruction, occupation, and free-market rebirth of Iraq. While the efficacy claims attached to this anti-immigrant legislation are not nearly as transparently far-fetched as Mr. Wolfowitz’s comment (which would be highly infamous were the U.S.A. a functioning democratic republic), I hang my skepticism on the practical irrelevance of the bill itself. While Rep. Dennis has been most polite and eloquent in explaining how the bill works, I agree with everyone here who believes that Tennessee voters should be asking why the hell it is necessary.

    Even in as cartoonishly corrupt a state as my beloved Illinois, legislation like this would never pass muster. (In fact, our legislators recently took time from flicking paper balls at our $13 billion budget deficit to debate a resolution condemning Arizona’s anti-immigrant laws.) Then again, we have a substantial Latino population that has many strong links between citizens, legal resident non-citizens, and the undocumented alike. So it’s not like many of our legislators have much to gain from grandstanding on the scapegoating of Latinos.

  21. I think we need another ten years before that becomes the case here (hence the “need” to enact legislation like this now). Within the next decade, the oldest of the children of the big wave of immigrants will start to vote. And they will be very motivated to vote, because what they’ve seen their parents go through.

    That’ll be interesting.

  22. I think this bill is stupid for all the reasons Aunt B so deliciously outlined, but I just want to say, good on Vance Dennis for engaging in conversation here and putting forth a rational argument. If the Founders had known about the Internet, I’m sure they would have heartily approved of this sort of engagement. We need more like it.

  23. Second that, autoegocrat. This has been pretty civil, as immigration debates go, thanks in part to Rep. Dennis’ willingness to talk with us. I don’t like his bill, but I like his style.

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