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Lawmaker responds after ACLU condemns state's 'sanctuary city bill'

Brandon Paykamian • Jun 16, 2018 at 5:04 PM

After a statewide campaign to oppose what many have dubbed the “sanctuary city bill,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam allowed HB 2315 to become law without his signature May 21.

The bill, which was passed by the Tennessee General Assembly on April 25, requires local law enforcement agencies to cooperate fully with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. The American Civil Liberties Union said the bill “effectively turns all state and local law enforcement officers into unpaid immigration agents.”

Despite condemnation from the ACLU and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition – coming weeks after ICE agents detained nearly 100 Hispanic workers in Bean Station, a small town near Morristown – local representatives remain supportive of the new law that ACLU officials said “requires the warrantless detention of immigrants based on requests from federal immigration agents and prohibits local law enforcement from ensuring that there is probable cause or a judicial warrant before detaining individuals.”

"When it is so difficult and such a lengthy process for immigrants who choose to become citizens the right way and follow the rules, then it is just not right to allow those who choose to come here illegally to break the law without consequences,” state Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, wrote in an emailed statement to the Press.

“This new legislation will allow our local law enforcement to work with federal law enforcement in enforcing our immigration laws,” he added. “Many of these immigrants are very good people and are coming here to better their lives, but that is not the issue. The issue at hand is enforcing our immigration laws, and that is the purpose of this legislation."

Both state Reps. Matthew Hill and Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, could not be immediately reached for comment after voting in favor of the law, which will go into effect in January. 

ACLU-TN Executive Director Hedy Weinberg had strong words for Haslam and those in the state legislature who supported the bill, joining members of the state’s clergy; educators; domestic and sexual violence advocates; criminal defense attorneys; the Shelby County Commission; the Davidson County Metro Council; Metro Nashville Chief of Police Steve Anderson; and other national civil rights and immigration advocacy organizations.

In a May 21 statement, Weinberg said it was “disgraceful” for the governor to dismiss constitutional criticisms of the bill. On Monday, Weinberg raised her concerns about the new law once again. 

“The law does not go into effect until January 1, 2019, so its full impact remains to be seen. However, in some Tennessee communities, policies and practices harmful to immigrants are already in place and we have strong concerns that this law will tear even more families apart,” Weinberg said in a Monday statement to the Press.

“It will also drive people further into the shadows, making it difficult for victims and witnesses of crimes to come forward, and undermining public safety as a whole. More than 500 children were absent from school in the wake of the Bean Station raid out of just such a fear.

“And in the year since the White House has ramped up its threats to detain and deport as many immigrants as possible, police departments nationwide have seen significant declines in the reporting of serious crime by Hispanic residents,” Weinberg added.

“Immigrants should not have to live with the constant fear that any local police officer or sheriff they encounter is a de facto immigration agent. We will continue the fight to ensure that all immigrants in our state are treated fairly.”

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