Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery released a statement on December 22 , 2014 in which he said that the state will join a lawsuit to challenge the President’s recent executive action on immigration. Slatery said in the statement that it is in the state’s best interest to sue the president.


Obama announced in early 2014 that he would sign executive orders to delay deportation and provide work permits for undocumented immigrants. Governor Bill Haslam believes that these actions counter the opportunity to reach a true decision on what immigration policy should be.


The lawsuit, brought by 24 other states and now joined by Tennessee, challenges Obama’s right to take action in a role that the lawsuit alleges is constitutionally reserved for Congress. Obama has responded to critics several times, saying that the orders are legal and he had to act because Congress chose not pass a comprehensive bill.


Protecting immigrants in Tennessee


While many of the state’s officials support Slatery’s decision, not everyone is in favor of it. Stephanie Teatro is co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. She believes that the state took a step backward by joining the lawsuit.


“Instead of finding ways to harness the economic potential of immigrants, who through executive action will be able to work legally and will add millions of dollars to our state economy, our attorney general has joined the ranks of anti-immigrants states like Alabama and Arizona under a frivolous, costly lawsuit to prevent the actions from being implemented,” said Teatro in a statement.


According to The Tennessean, the state has an estimated 124,000 illegal immigrants, with as many as 50,000 in Davidson County. Teatro estimates that undocumented immigrants in Tennessee would benefit from the orders, many because they are parents to children either born in the United States or have a green card.


Since 2000, immigrants have accounted for more than half of Nashville’s population growth. Driving the numbers are primarily Hispanic families, but the city also house large Kurdish, Somali and Burmese refugee groups. As a result, the Metro school system is the most diverse in the state.


There is no doubt that Tennessee has a vested interest in immigration. Slatery’s statement summed up the decision concisely, saying that “However frustrating and painstakingly long the federal legislative process may be, making law is the prerogative of Congress, not the executive branch. Congress can resolve all of the issues raised by this lawsuit, and the executive directives for that matter, by timely enacting legislation.” Only time will tell the outcome, but this lawsuit serves to thrust the immigration issue into the national news spotlight.


For more information about the debate or the laws governing immigration in Tennessee, please contact our office.