State Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, and Mt. Juliet City Commissioner Ray Justice raised concerns about the impact the bill, which they said would make Nashville a sanctuary city, would have on Wilson County.
The term “sanctuary city” has no precise legal meaning, but is broadly considered to mean any city in the U.S. that adopts a policy of protecting undocumented or illegal immigrants by not prosecuting them for violating federal immigration laws.
"In 2009, the state legislature made it clear that sanctuary cities are prohibited in Tennessee. I voted for that law, and now some on the Metro Council are attempting to violate state law and greatly endanger our citizens," Lynn said.
Bill sponsor Bob Mendes said opponents have intentionally labeled the bill a “sanctuary” bill.
“There is no way this bill triggers the definition of sanctuary jurisdiction of the federal government. That is smoke and mirrors. That’s a way to get people afraid to deal with this,” Mendes said.
The bill states intent to “facilitate compliance with federal immigration laws within the limited resources of local government.” The bill also states no department, board, commission, officer or employee of the Nashville metropolitan government shall use any funds, resources or facilities of the metro government to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration laws unless the assistance is required by federal or state law or a court order.
The bill also states no resources beyond what is required by law would be used to respond to inquiries from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regarding a person’s custody status, release date or scheduled appearance date for court or probation proceedings.
The bill also impacts law enforcement officers, as metro employees, including officers, “shall not request information about or otherwise assist in the investigation of the citizenship or immigration status of any person, unless otherwise required by federal or state law or by court order.”
Nashville would also only honor an immigration-related detention request if it is accompanied by a warrant issued pursuant to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, according to the bill.
Mendes discussed his intent behind the bill during last week’s council meeting.
“The goal of this bill is to have Metro comply with every last obligation we have under state and federal law, and beyond that, cities are allowed to have choice and they are allowed to exercise their choice about how much above and beyond their legal requirements they do,” Mendes said.
Mendes said he believes the bill will send a message to immigrant communities that it is safe to engage with Metropolitan government officials and personnel.
Lynn said the bill sets a bad precedent by directing Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall and other law enforcement officials.
"The Sheriff of Davidson County is a Constitutional officer and as such he does not take direction from the Metro Councilmen on which laws to enforce - he has to enforce all of the laws. What I strongly object to is the intent to endanger the citizens. Every night gang members cross the county line and commit crimes in outer counties such as my district. The councilmen would make this problem worse and I do not appreciate that," Lynn said.
Metro Councilor Nick Leonardo said he doesn’t see a connection between immigration and crime, particularly in his district.
“I’ve received a lot of emails about the crime that is alleged to be coming from illegal immigrants. Well, District 6 has had a huge amount of crime lately, particularly in Cayce Homes. As far as I can tell, every person who is committing those violent crimes was, in fact, a United States citizen. I do not see any kind of a link between immigration status and crime, particularly violent crime in my district,” Leonardo said.
Lynn said she believes the bill, which will have its third and final reading July 6, would present a danger to citizens outside of Nashville.
Lynn said in 2006, Gustavo Reyes Garcia, an illegal alien who had 14 previous arrests, including four DUIs, slammed his SUV into a sedan driven by Sean and Donna Wilson, of Mt. Juliet, which killed them both. At the time of the accident, Sean Wilson was driving Donna Wilson to her chemotherapy appointment. Lynn said the tragedy was a catalyst to finally end the issuance of driver’s licenses to illegal aliens in Tennessee and for the creation of other laws such as the sanctuary cities law.
"I want to make the members of the Metro Council aware of the very real dangers and horrible impact such ordinances, if obeyed, could have on the lives of citizens. If enacted, these resolutions are in clear violation of state law. Further, state law grants citizens' legal recourse against Nashville. Finally, the council can be assured that I, along with other members of the 110th Tennessee General Assembly, will take this matter up in January when the legislature reconvenes,” Lynn said.
Though not listed in an official letter to the Metro Nashville council, Lynn joined 63 other Republican House members in opposition of the bill, including Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon.
Justice took to Facebook to urge Mt. Juliet residents to voice their concerns about the bill.
“Call these people, email, send smoke signals – do whatever you can to stop this nonsense,” he said. “I guarantee you wouldn't stand for this in Mt. Juliet. Do you want it next door to you?”
Last year, the Mt. Juliet Commission passed a resolution, sponsored by Vice Mayor James Maness, which proclaimed the city as a “rule of law” city. Mt. Juliet mayor Ed Hagerty said the proclamation had “no teeth” and was meant to send a message the city would not tolerate immigrants who were in Mt. Juliet illegally.
“This is really not meant to be inflammatory,” Hagerty said last year. “The other side tries to take it and make it inflammatory, but it is not. It is simply a statement that if you are a legal immigrant, you are welcome. We encourage anyone who wants to come to the United States to do so legally. There is a process for that, and thousands upon thousands come through that process every year.”