On the issue of illegal immigration, gubernatorial candidates Mae Beavers and Diane Black both consistently vote for bills intended to curb illegal immigration. However, in 2001, a Democrat controlled legislature passed HB983, a bill which allowed driver’s licenses to be issued to someone without a social security number enabling illegal aliens to obtain a Tennessee drivers license. It was estimated that more than 180,000 licenses were issued after the law was passed.
Black doesn’t deny voting for the bill, but explained it as “an unintended consequence of a bill that was supposed to allow legal immigrants to get licenses and co-sponsored legislation to repeal it.”
Just months after Tennessee’s legislative session concluded, the 9/11 terrorist attack occurred and the question of easy access to state driver’s licenses was highlighted by the FBI raising the same question in state legislatures around the country, including Tennessee. This prompted a bill at the start of Tennessee’s next legislative session to fully repeal the illegal alien driver’s license bill. Even though the bill was not passed, both Beavers and Black signed on as co-sponsors and both voted for it.
In 2004, the Tennessee General Assembly and the Governor’s office remained under control of the Democrats with the Governor proposing what was characterized as a compromise accounting for both domestic security and traffic safety concerns related to the driver license issue. The compromise bill offered a driving certificate for illegal aliens who could document Tennessee residency. The certificate would also display “For Driving Purposes Only – Not Valid For Identification.” Both Beavers and Black voted for this bill which was signed into law.
It didn’t take long, however, for this new law to unravel into the realm of what legislators call “unintended consequences” as illegal aliens from other states began using forged residency documents to obtain the driving certificates with 51,000 having been issued as soon as the law took effect:
Two major federal arrests in recent months exposed shuttles carrying South and Central American immigrants from as far away as New Jersey to state licensing centers in Knoxville, where they got certificates using fake residency papers.
Last week, prosecutors say, a third sweep revealed a conspiracy in which state license examiners in Murfreesboro, south of Nashville, accepted bribes to provide illegal immigrants with driver’s licenses or certificates without testing.
Despite the law’s clear intent that the driving certificate would not be used for identification, a representative of the Tennessee Department of Safety was reported to have told state troopers to “treat them as regular licenses.”
The program was suspended by the Commissioner of Safety and subsequently prompted a Republican-led bill to permanently eliminate the driving certificate program. Both Beavers and Black co-sponsored and voted for this bill and the 2009, anti-sanctuary cities bill.
Ironically, it was during Black’s last term in the Senate serving on the Judiciary Committee chaired by Beavers, when Black introduced a key amendment to the 2010 bill requiring local jailers to communicate with ICE. This bill became highly relevant when the Metro Nashville Council tried pass a sanctuary city ordinance this year.
It is true that Black, like several other senators, introduced an earlier amendment to exempt two counties in her district from the bill’s requirements. She stated clearly on the Senate floor that she supported the bill (and all her votes on the bill supported its passage), but submitted Amendment #12 at the behest of the sheriffs in Robertson and Sumner counties. Importantly, however, Black later submitted Amendment #24 which prompted the question from another senator of whether this new amendment made all prior amendments inapplicable.
Black’s answer was affirmative saying that it was “a stripping amendment” meaning that it stripped out all other preceding amendments from the bill, effectively making the requirements of this important bill applicable to all counties not otherwise engaged in a federal program involving active communication with ICE.
This bill passed with both Beavers and Black as co-sponsors.
Mae Beavers was first elected in 1994 to the Tennessee House in 1994 and then moved to the Senate in 2002, when she was elected to represent District 17. Diane Black joined Beavers in the Tennessee House in 1998 and held that seat until she was elected to the state Senate in 2005. She left the state legislature in 2010 when she was elected to represent the 6th Congressional district in 2011.
Randy Boyd is the only GOP gubernatorial candidate who is tied to an organization that promotes the alleged benefits of illegal immigration for Tennessee.
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