Tennessee GOP Readying Next Year's Xenophobic, Anti-Immigrant Legislation

July 13, 2011 9:30 am ET — Salvatore Colleluori

Photo Credit: Pargon

Fresh off passing statewide E-Verify legislation restricting the ability of immigrants to work in Tennessee, the state's Republican Party is already planning for the next round of anti-immigrant legislation. According to the Missouri News Horizon, the GOP lawmakers have at least four more bills queued up for January:

Lawmakers say they intend to pursue legislation beginning in January on immigration enforcement at the state level (SB0780), denying state taxpayer benefits to illegal aliens (HB1379), an English-only driver's license process (SB0010) and, in what may be a highly volatile issue, an effort (HB0751) to seek clarification on whether a child born here to illegal aliens should be considered a citizen, as has generally been the practice.

The problems with bills like HB 751, Tennessee's attempt to redefine citizenship, have been clearly explained over and over. But an equally troubling trend is the push for English-only legislation.

There are already a few national organizations, such as ProEnglish — which was founded by anti-immigrant activist John Tanton — whose primary goal is pushing for legislation to make it impossible for anyone to ask for government services in another language. Efforts by these groups, along with Tennessee's attempt to create English-only driver's license tests, discriminate against all immigrants, but particularly affect legal immigrants by hindering equal access to government services to which they're legally entitled.

In an attempt to combat this type of discrimination, former President Bill Clinton issued Executive Order 13166, which provided for improved access to federally conducted and assisted programs and activities for those with limited English proficiency. In a statement released as a follow-up to the order signing, Clinton explained that language barriers "can lead to unequal access to Federal benefits based on national origin," a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Discrimination stemming from English-only laws happens at a local level too. According to one study, men with limited English proficiency experienced a substantial decline in their annual earnings after their states passed official English laws. Ultimately, English-only laws hurt the civil liberties of Americans who immigrated here and affect their ability to make a living and provide sufficiently for their families.