Durham introduces five bills on illegal immigration, intends to close enforcement loopholes

Published: February 24, 2016

Tennessee State Representative Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin) introduced five pieces of legislation this month on illegal immigration.

Intended to close enforcement loopholes, the bills target specific areas of immigration policy including increased penalties on businesses that employ illegal immigrants and the forfeiture of state funding for public education institutions that allow Tennessee residency classification for non-U.S. citizens.

One piece of legislation, HB 2552, would require the forfeiture of all state funding by any public institution of higher education who classifies a student who is not a U.S. citizen as a Tennessee resident. That legislation says that, "As introduced, provides that any public institution of higher education that classifies a student, who is not a United States citizen, as a Tennessee resident for purposes of charging in-state tuition forfeits all state funding."

Under the current wording of the legislation, the children of legal residents who live in the state legally are not exempted. This means that a student who is a legal resident but not a U.S. citizen would not be eligible for in-state tuition under the current wording of the legislation, but upon questioning Durham said that it means "no instate tuition for illegal immigrants," or else the school loses funding.

Another piece of legislation Durham is proposing would prohibit local governments who interfere with federal law pertaining to immigration from receiving Department of Economic and Community Development aid.

Another would increase the penalties on businesses who employ illegal immigrants, and another would remove the current exemption from employment verification requirements for businesses employing fewer than six people.

The last piece would require the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to report the total number of final orders associated with illegal immigrant employment to the general assembly.

"While Tennessee is forced to deal with the costs associated with illegal immigration, the federal government chooses to stand on the sidelines, purposefully ignoring existing legislation on these matters," Durham said.

Durham also said that individuals who have entered the country illegally or have overstayed their visas are a burden to resources and tax-payers.

"This abuse has taken resources away from people that actually need help, taken jobs from hard working people and is a massive burden to Tennessee taxpayers," he said.

According to the the most recent data from Federation for American Immigration Reform, a nonprofit that studies immigration laws and statistics, in 2013 Tennessee expenditures on illegal aliens was $547 million. The highest was in California, with expenditures of more than $21 billion. The lowest was West Virginia with $31 million in illegal alien expenditures.

That study also found that combined between education, medical assistance, law enforcement and public assistance, there was more than $28 billion in federal expenditures in 2013, with law enforcement and general expenditures having the highest levels upwards of $8 billion.

FAIR also reported that Tennessee's illegal alien population in 2007 exceeded 100,000 persons, and that at that time the taxpayer burden was about $285 million.

According to the American Immigration Council, a group that studies immigration policy, immigrants, Latinos and Asians account for about 4.7 percent of the state's population today. They also found that in 2012 unauthorized immigrants in Tennessee paid $109 million in state and local taxes, including $91.4 million in sales taxes and $17.1 million in property taxes.

Their study also states that were unauthorized immigrants in the state to have lawful, permanent residents, they would pay $119.5 million in state and local taxes, with $100.6 million in sales taxes and $18.8 million in property taxes.

Durham said that his legislation will "strengthen our ability to hold these people, as well as those who choose to employ them, accountable."

Other Senators sponsoring the bill include Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), John Stevens (R-Huntingdon) and Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield).