Tennessee State Immigration Laws
Traditionally, the doctrine of preemption prevented states from making laws on immigration. The federal government had the sole authority in these matters. In recent years, state laws affecting immigrants have become increasingly common. States have developed a range of approaches. Some cities and states offer refuge to immigrants without proper documentation. Others cooperate with federal efforts to identify and deport them.
Welcome to FindLaw's coverage of Tennessee's immigration laws. Below, you will find information on the following:
- Law enforcement and immigration in Tennessee
- Employment and immigration
- Tennessee E-Verify requirements
- Driver's license/ID requirements
- Public benefits restrictions
- Education checks
- Voting ID rules
- Housing ordinances and immigration
- Related resources
- Contact an immigration attorney
Officials at city and county jails in Tennessee must report anyone who may violate federal immigration laws. They report the person to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Enforcement agencies must contact federal immigration officials if they can't verify the legal status of arrestees within three days.
Some Tennessee Highway Patrol and Sheriff's Office officials cooperate closely with federal authorities. They do so to enforce immigration laws. But, this applies to only two jurisdictions. Only such officials within Green and Knox Counties must do so. They take part in the 287(g) ICE ACCESS Program.
The Trump-era program called "Secure Communities" is no longer in effect. Under that program, all arrestees' names went into a federal database. That database checked their criminal record and immigration statuses. President Joe Biden ended the program in 2021. Its replacement is the "Criminal Apprehension Program." But, it only applies to the convicted.
State officials may deny business licenses if employers knowingly hire immigrants living here illegally. They may suspend or revoke these licenses, as well.
Also, refer to federal employment eligibility verification rules and the requirements for Form I-9.
All Tennessee-based employers with thirty-five or more employees must verify employment eligibility using E-Verify. Employers must maintain records of all E-Verify results.
If you're an immigrant or migrant, know that your employer will check your eligibility.
Applicants must show proof of U.S. citizenship or legal address to get a driver's license or state ID.
Under federal law, illegal immigrants can't get most public benefits. But can use emergency services. They can also get emergency health care. The same applies to other services "necessary to protect life and safety."
Students without proper documentation must pay out-of-state tuition at Tennessee public universities. Those without proper documentation are also not eligible for state-funded financial aid. These exclusions apply to DACA recipients.
DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It protects eligible young adults from deportation after their parents brought them to the United States as children. It also gives these young adults work authorization for limited periods. Those periods of work authorization are renewable.
Tennessee requires valid and current photo identification to vote. Examples include a Tennessee driver's license, a valid photo ID issued by any state, a U.S. passport, or a valid U.S. military ID with a photo. Those without a photo ID may vote via provisional ballot if they return with a photo ID within two days or sign an affidavit.
Tennessee has no housing ordinances on immigration status.
- Know Your Rights — A guide to protecting yourself and your family during immigration raids
- Immigration to Tennessee — Resources for immigrants to Tennessee (U.S. Immigration Support)
- Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition — Advocacy group for immigrants in Tennessee
Immigration laws are notoriously complicated, and it's important to know your civil rights. The consequences of a wrong decision can be catastrophic. It's essential to contact an experienced immigration attorney. They can help plan your immigration process and consider your individual needs.
Federal law dictates many aspects of U.S. immigration policy. Knowing everything about immigrant rights is impossible. But immigration attorneys can help.
With proper legal representation and legal advice, any immigration process will be far easier. Contact an immigration lawyer today. Such immigration services are invaluable for any U.S. citizen, immigrant, non-immigrant, or permanent resident (green card). This includes navigating the process of naturalization. An attorney can offer valuable advocacy services.
Tennessee-based migrants enjoy fewer protections than those in more liberal states, like California or New York. Review the Tennessee Department of Human Services website if you can't afford a lawyer. There, you can find information about legal aid in the state.
Legal Aid provides free or low-cost legal services to people who can't afford them. Many attorneys offer such pro-bono (no cost) services, including for immigration court. The Tennessee State Bar Association can give referrals for legal help.
Pro-bono immigration attorneys provide help that's beneficial for immigrant communities. If you're in Nashville or Davidson County, consider visiting the offices of the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition. It provides many valuable resources.
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