Lawsuit may follow latest get-tough-on-illegal-immigrants legislation

A bill passed late in the legislative session authorizes Tennessee judges to give illegal immigrants longer sentences than citizens when they are convicted of felonies. The Tennessean reports the measure may lead to a lawsuit and courts have struck down similar measures in other states.

Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and Rep. Ron Gant, R-Rossville, SB1260 passed the House 66-17 and the Senate by a 28-3 margin. Final approval came on May 10, last day of the session, with the House signing off on a Senate amendment (67-13).

Immigration attorneys say the new law (it’s not yet signed by the governor) is the latest case in which states have tried to implement the “mass deportation” rhetoric pushed by President Donald Trump, highlighted by his travel ban executive orders and pledge to build a wall along the border with Mexico.

“Tennessee is unfortunately following in the Trump mass deportation movement right now,” said Melisa Keaney, an attorney with the National Immigration Law Center in California.

…The new measure would require judges to consider federal immigration status as a felony sentencing enhancement factor, and use their discretion in making that determination. Enhancements can add between one and 10 years to prison sentences, depending on the offense.

Keaney said immigration status is a federal civil matter, not something states can legally determine, and similar laws have been struck down as unconstitutional in other states.

…Norris, R-Collierville, said “it’s consistent with most Tennesseans’ concern for our safety.”

“I had more extreme legislation proposed to me by constituents,” he said, adding the bill is partly related to the state’s lawsuit against the federal government over refugee resettlement.

Norris said he had legislative legal staff and district attorneys review the legislation and they did not voice any concern over the bill.

“It’s just another tool in the court’s kit that the court may use at its discretion,” Norris said.

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