Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ketron's case-by-case review of immigrant behavior shifts to Department of Safety in SB 2158; I.D. card would be issued

State senator intervention is free, but the new process would cost $500

Speaker Ramsey and Deputy Speaker Ketron visit Hispanic Heritage Month networking lunch

A few weeks ago, I sat down across a lunch table from Tennessee State Senator Bill Ketron (R-13). Sen. Ketron's district comes within a stone's throw of my home, covering "western Rutherford County and all of Maury, Marshall and Lincoln counties," according to his web site. The site also points out that Ketron has been Deputy Speaker of the Senate since January 2009.

The event we attended was the Tennessee Hispanic Chamber of Commerce networking lunch celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, on September 3 at Chappy's on Church Street, in the Napoleon Banquet Room.

The conversation turned to state-level bills related to immigrants and immigration. Since I was across the centerpiece from Sen. Ketron, it was a little hard to hear. It seemed that I was hearing that Sen. Ketron supports the concept that people in the U.S. without a visa should nonetheless be able to identify themselves with I.D. issued here, and that "coming out of the shadows" is a good thing.

The background that led to this position seems to be that Sen. Ketron was once able to use his position in government to help someone get in line for either a visa or citizenship. I believe Ketron wrote a letter to the immigration authorities on behalf of this person.

Sen. Ketron thought there should be an easier way than having to go through your state senator.

His idea was that if a person comes here for a good reason and just wants to make a living and raise a family, coming clean and applying for immigration relief should be easier than it is currently. (For those who don't want to live here peacefully, they should be picked up and shipped out, he said.)

So what can a state senator do? For starters, he authored the bill identified as SB 2158. Under this bill, the State must issue an I.D. card to anyone proving identity and 15 days' residency in Tennessee. After two years of living with a trackable identity, good behavior gets the cardhold a letter from the state - just like the letter Sen. Ketron sent on behalf of his constituent - except instead of having to get the letter from a state senator, the cardholder gets it from the state itself (the bill is silent on which state agency would send the letter).

Here are some specifics about SB 2158:
  • What will appear on the i.d. card, at a minimum:
    the cardholder's name, photograph, date of birth, gender, and an expiration date.
  • How the state will verify the data on the card: the bill specifies the documents that establish identity and residence either by themselves or in combination with other documents, depending on the document.
  • What the state will charge: $500 for adults; $250 for minors. If the Department of Safety come up with a way to verify income, it can offer discounts or even waivers to low-income applicants.
  • Obligations imposed on recipients: any foreign citizen who applies for the card has to sign a form stating
    that the person pledges to learn the basics of the English language and abide by the laws of this state and country
  • Sending a letter to the immigration authorities to show good behavior: two years after issuance of the card, if "the person has not been convicted of any felony or Class A misdemeanor" and if "the person passes a test on the basics of the English language" then
    the state shall work with the appropriate federal agencies to help the person become a citizen of the United States.
  • Driving privileges conferred: none
In essence, Ketron wants to move the case-by-case review of good behavior at the state level from his office to the Department of Safety.

Since it confers no driving privileges, the proposed i.d. is the opposite of Tennessee's short-lived Certificate for Driving, which was legally valid for driving but was not valid as identification. As reported previously on HispanicNashville.com, Senator Ketron sponsored the 2004 legislation that stripped unvisaed immigrants of their drivers' licenses, was a "major backer" of the Certificate for Driving that same year on the condition that it would not be used as i.d., and in 2005 pushed for immigration- and language-related requirements for license plates and drivers' licenses. Ketron is also a current sponsor of SB0122 and SB0145 which condition public benefits on the federal "systematic alien verification for entitlements" or "SAVE" program, as well as SB1683 also known as the "Comprehensive Illegal Immigration Act." These most recent bills can be viewed onthe legislature's web site.

What's the status of SB 2158? Ketron made the point to the table that since the legislative session is two years long, the bill is still pending, even though the legislature doesn't resume meeting until January. The bill's own web page will be updated regularly once the legislature returns.

Constituents can call Sen. Ketron at 741-6853 or e-mail him at sen.bill.ketron@capitol.tn.gov

On a side note, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the Senate Ron Ramsey stopped by the lunch table at one point and talked about how he had just been to Bristol. "That's an experience," he said.

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