Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Illegalized foreigners in Tennessee: 100,000 to 150,000; how many sanctioned employers?

New laws unlikely to deliver punishment comparable to foreigners' fates

The Tennessean reports in this article (about a new state labor law) that there were 100,000 to 150,000 illegalized foreign citizens living in Tennessee last year, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Consider that out of an estimated state population of 5,962,959 in 2005, this means that anywhere from one to three percent of all people living in Tennessee are now deemed "illegal" - with little hope of ever fully integrating into U.S. society, despite the fact that many have been living here for years and will continue to do so. The Pew Hispanic Center report states that over 70% of all illegalized foreign citizens are from Latin America, many of whom are Hispanic (Brazil accounts for approximately 50% of Latin America's population and its citizens are not considered Hispanic). Asian citizens account for 13%, and European and Canadian citizens combine for a total of 6%.

In regard to the new state and local laws (a similar employer-enforcement bill has been proposed in Clarksville and was reported in this article in the Tennessean), they would at best shift only slightly the current imbalance of immigration enforcement against workers only. Workers are usually the only ones sanctioned for immigration violations - if not by deportation, by simple civic exclusion. It remains to be seen whether any real setbacks will be suffered by Tennessee employers under these new laws, but it seems as if governmental inaction will continue to have a negative effect on employees and no detrimental effect on employers.

Federal law has long prohibited the hiring of illegalized foreign citizens or even legal immigrants without work permits, but enforcement has been lax.

A thought for Tennessee's lawmakers, both state and federal: keep shifting the balance to make repercussions from the immigration system felt equally among employers and employees.

A thought for the executive branch in Tennessee and D.C.: enforce the laws to the letter until we Americans feel how harsh our immigration system is. As commentator Sean Brainsted said in a different context here, "The more that rich and powerful people are held accountable to the same laws that poorer people are, the more likely we are to get rid of ridiculous laws."

And a thought for Tennesseans: Don't hold your breath for stepped-up enforcement of immigration laws against Americans. Stand up for your neighbor now, even if you don't feel the heat of our current immigration system. Even with the new laws, it's not likely you ever will.

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