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Haslam balks at signing sanctuary city bill

Xavier Smith • May 22, 2018 at 7:05 PM

Gov. Bill Haslam will not sign or veto a bill aimed at sanctuary cities, which allows the bill to go into law without his signature.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, and Rep. Jay Reedy, would prohibit state and local governments from adopting or enacting sanctuary policies.

The law also forces law enforcement agencies to abide by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement rules, including detainer rules, which caused a lot of pushback from opponents.

Additionally, a city would lose some state funding if it violates the law.

“It’s stirred up what I think is some irrational fear,” Haslam said Monday. “It’s conveyed the idea that sanctuary cities exist in Tennessee right now, which they don’t, and they’re currently allowed by law, which they are not.”

Dozens of opponents of the measure marched through Nashville to the Tennessee Legislative Plaza last week to urge Haslam to veto the bill. A similar march and protest took place last month.

Leaders from several organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, signed a joint letter that urged Haslam to veto the bill.

“Signing HB 2315 would make Tennessee a dangerous place for immigrant families and cement the state's reputation as hostile and unwelcoming to newcomers. Among other aspects, HB 2315 would bar all law enforcement agencies, even campus police, from adopting commonsense policies that limit officer inquiry about immigration and citizenship status, including in routine interactions with victims and witnesses to crime,” the letter said. “HB 2315 will increase the already heightened fear that immigrants and their family members experience and make students and others less likely to report crimes.”

Marielena Hincapie, National Immigration Law Center executive director, also issued a statement on the bill.

“HB 2315 would formalize [Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s] abuse of power and make Tennessee a hostile and dangerous place for immigrant families,” Hincapie said. “We stand with immigrant communities in Tennessee in urging Gov. Haslam to listen to the outcry from Tennesseans across the state and to heed the warnings of civil rights groups around the country: HB 2315 is a gross overreach of federal power and harms immigrant families, public safety, local taxpayers, and Tennessee’s reputation.”

Many major cities were designated sanctuary cities for undocumented immigrants, including Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Seattle, San Francisco and more.

Nashville, although some city leaders have voiced support for undocumented immigrants, does not qualify as a sanctuary city because of steps taken by the city against illegal immigrants. Nashville offers a 48-hour detainment for illegal immigrants if requested by immigration agents and submits a suspect’s fingerprint information to the FBI.

In 2009, the legislature passed a bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Carr and Sen. Jim Tracy, that would prohibit local municipalities from enacting sanctuary city policies that make it hard for government employees to comply with federal immigration law. 

The Mt. Juliet City Commission unanimously passed a resolution in 2016, sponsored by Vice Mayor James Maness, which proclaimed Mt. Juliet 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. Hagerty admitted the proclamation was more to set tone than set a law that could be enforceable in some way.

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