Monday, February 11, 2008

Tennessee employer lobby preserves imbalance in immigration enforcement

Citizens can't file complaints against companies

The Nashville City Paper reports here that the business lobby neutered Tennessee's new immigration enforcement bill, under which a business can lose its license for hiring foreign employees without a visa. Under an early draft of the bill, average citizens could file a complaint against such employers, but in the final version, only government officials can do so.

A similar effort last year on a different bill killed a $1000 fine for employers who didn't check a federal database designed to determine whether an employee has authorization to work.

At the same time, some employers were encouraging workers to get fake papers and were caught in the act by WSMV cameramen (story here).

The Hispanic Nashville Notebook has lamented the imbalance of immigration enforcement on employees more than on employers, including this post on the number of illegalized residents of Tennessee:
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.
When the WSMV expose aired, the Hispanic Nashville Notebook asked here about the fairness of skewed enforcement in favor of employers:
Are we comfortable with punishing only the outsider for his business deal with an insider? If both sides were pursued and punished equally and to the full extent of the law, would the law continue to exist in its current form?
Some Tennessee employers have even been accused of denying basic rights to both their visaed as well as their unvisaed employees (story here).

The good news is that both the executive branch and the judicial branch have at times refused to go along with tilting the scales completely in favor of employers of the unvisaed, recognizing protections that should not be visa-dependent (stories here and here).

And some credit may be due the Tennessee legislature, as well. In 2006 and 2007, our state lawmakers repelled a tide of misguided bills on the immigration issue, and in each session, the one law they passed was designed to increase enforcement against employers. Not that the laws themselves were necessarily good for the state, or that the absence of any pro-immigrant legislation was not a glaring omission, but the point here is that the imbalance of enforcement against employees was not horribly worsened, at least on the books.

Of course, stepped-up enforcement against employers also hurts employees. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) uses its raids of Springfield's Electrolux as a success story (NYT article here), but a January 6 story in the Tennessean (available here) documented the widespread concern among business, local government, and immigrant advocates about the short- and long-term impact of ICE raids that appear to have led to the departure of 1,000 residents from the city and the possible future departure of Electrolux itself.

One would hope that American businesses feeling the sting of immigration enforcement for the first time will lobby the U.S. Congress for an overhaul of the federal immigration bureaucracy and unhinge the bear trap not just from the legs of employers, but from the legs of their employees who have been in that painful position for a much longer time.

Photo by Alice. Licensed under Creative Commons.


  1. John, the process of commenting here is too tedious for me, but i will do so one last time: You are way more generous to our cowardly State Reps than I am. Not a single proposed bill contained language that sought to assist the undocumented, rather, the tone and substance was purely punitive in nature, and designed to win support in their home districts. Nary a leader among them. The problems in Springfield are only being discussed because of their economic impact, absent that, I think they would be scheduling parades for themselves. Meanwhile, hundreds of families suffer.


  2. These kinds of bills don't seem to have any effect. Maybe on a legislative theoretical level it works, but on the individual every day level, there has gotta be another way. Check out this clip-
    I think that it says a lot.


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