Illegal immigration is emerging as one of the key issues in this year’s state elections, with Tennessee Republicans planning to make the topic a pillar of their program to sweep state legislative and Congressional elections. State GOP leaders say illegal immigration — along with the economy and criticism of the Democratic health-care reform plan in Washington — will be one of their main areas of focus in the fall, even in races for the state legislature, which historically has made few attempts to set immigration policy.
The plan means that Tennessee will continue to be among the battleground states nationally in the continuing debate over immigration, despite what experts say is an apparently declining immigrant population here. Though nationwide in scope, the issue appears to resonate particularly deeply with Tennesseans, thrusting the state to the forefront of the debate alongside Arizona, California, Florida and other states that have far larger illegal immigrant populations. Republicans say they are responding to voter outrage over the issue and to actions that have emboldened states to take up the matter, such as a new law in Arizona that lets police detain suspected illegal immigrants on trespassing charges.