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Faith leaders call on Governor Haslam to veto 'mass deportation bill'

Brandon Paykamian • Updated May 8, 2018 at 11:15 PM

Faith leaders from across Tennessee gathered in Nashville’s Legislative Plaza Tuesday to urge Gov. Bill Haslam to veto a bill they say will target the state’s immigrants.

More than 200 leaders from the state’s Christian, Muslim and Jewish congregations signed a petition opposing House Bill 2315, a bill also opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which would require police to inquire about immigration and citizenship status, prohibit local “sanctuary policies” and require full cooperation with immigration officials.

Leaders from Johnson City’s Casa de Restauracion Baptist Church and St. Mary’s Catholic Church signed the petition urging Haslam to veto the legislation that was passed by the Tennessee General Assembly on April 25.

“It’s going to put a lot of fear in our (Hispanic) community, and it will eventually lead to the separation of families. As religious organizations, we are against that, and that’s why we’d like to ask the governor not to sign this bill,” said Shirley Velasco, wife of the Rev. Jaime Velasco of Casa de Restauracion.

Haslam could not be immediately reached for comment, but his office said he has not received the bill or read it in its entirety yet. The governor has 12 days to decide if he will veto the bill.

In a Tuesday press release, the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition called the legislation an attack on “sanctuary cities” that aims to “prohibit common-sense local policies that promote community trust and public safety and take discretion away from local law enforcement by turning requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement into unconditional directives.”

A dozen church leaders from Morristown, where ICE agents raided a meatpacking plant in April and detained and deported nearly 100 workers, also signed the petition opposing the bill.

In the aftermath of the raid that was condemned by the ACLU, Velasco said there’s been fear and anxiety among much of the region’s Hispanic population.

“After the immigration raid in Morristown, the community was afraid of what was going to happen,” she said. “Most of the community has families with young children, so of course, everyone is afraid of being separated from their children after going to work and not being able to come back home.”

Velasco said many in the state’s Hispanic community are “either undocumented or have family members who are.”

She said she would like to see comprehensive solutions that make it easier for immigrants to obtain legal status.

“You cannot just uproot people,” she said. “I hope that the government and state will try to see that, but we need to find a comprehensive immigration solution, and just deporting people isn’t the best way to do it.”

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