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Bill Prohibiting Housing for TN Undocumented Called 'Unfriendly'

Groups say House Bill 614 would waste public dollars by requiring local law enforcement to investigate landlords for renting to people suspected of being undocumented. (5byseven/Twenty20)
Groups say House Bill 614 would waste public dollars by requiring local law enforcement to investigate landlords for renting to people suspected of being undocumented. (5byseven/Twenty20)
March 20, 2019

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Landlords could face criminal charges and jail time for renting to people without legal U.S. residency if the Tennessee Legislature passes House Bill 614.

While there is debate about the issue of immigration, both critics and the bill's sponsor, Rep. Bruce Griffey, R-Paris, called it "unfriendly" to undocumented families. Griffey told the Business Subcommittee last week that he's unclear about the number of people who could become homeless because of the bill, but he wants to make Tennessee, in his words, "unfriendly for folks that are here illegally."

Opponents say it could impact more than 700,000 residents, and Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, policy director at the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, said that doesn't bode well for the Volunteer State.

"While we may have disagreements about laws around immigration," she said, "preventing someone from having a roof over their head is denying them even the most basic recognition of their humanity and dignity."

Griffey has received praise from conservative watchdog groups and said he's fulfilling campaign promises to put U.S. residents first. He said the bill focuses on those knowingly providing housing to decrease the number of immigrants "taking jobs from legal Tennessee residents."

Sherman-Nikolaus said the proposed legislation would create a financial impact for Tennessee, and create housing and guardianship problems for children legally residing in the state.

"A lot of undocumented folks have family members, young children who live with them, many of whom are U.S. citizens," she said, "so this would really exacerbate a lot of children whose parents would be able to put a roof over their heads."

She said the financial impact of HB 614 also needs more evaluation. According to a recent study by Vanderbilt University, hidden costs of law enforcement and jail for those who are homeless in Nashville already exceed more than $800,000 a year. Critics have said enforcing the bill could cost Tennessee taxpayers billions.

The text of the bill is online at wapp.capitol.tn.gov, and the Vanderbilt report is at my.vanderbilt.edu.

Antionette Kerr/Mark Richardson, Public News Service - TN