Tennessee Capitol

Two Senate bills were introduced last week to amend the "Anti-Sanctuary City Law" that came into effect in at the beginning of this year. Republicans in both houses stated the practice of sanctuary cities breaks federal regulations on immigration.

Two Senate bills were introduced last week to amend the “Anti-Sanctuary City Law” that came into effect in Tennessee at the beginning of this year.

Republicans in both houses stated the practice of sanctuary cities breaks federal regulations on immigration. Matthew Mullins, President of the University of Memphis College Republicans, echoed this call by the state Republicans.

"The practice of developing sanctuary cities is in clear violation of federal immigration law," Mullins said. "Much of the fear surrounding this legislation seems to come from people thinking that 'rouge' police officers will start asking for immigration documentation. If this line of questioning leads to the arrest of a U.S. citizen, then that is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment."

The law, officially introduced as house bill 2315 (HB 2315), generated criticism from media outlets and the public when it was passed in April 2018.

Back then, the Tennessee General Assembly found that “allowing illegal immigrants to reside within this state undermines federal immigration laws and state laws allocating available resources” and therefore prohibited state governmental entities, such as the police, to adopt or enact sanctuary policies.

Mullins said "illegal immigrants" do not have the same constitutional rights citizens do.

 Overall, I believe that SB 0931 and HB 1110 are solutions looking to find a problem in our state and I highly doubt they will lead to any significant changes."

These policies, among other things, limit or prohibit the police and other officials from communicating or cooperating with federal agencies to verify or report the status of an immigrant. They also grant immigrants who are unlawfully present in the United States the right to stay lawfully and restrict state or local entities’ cooperation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security when they keep immigrants in custody.

HB 2315 states “no state governmental entity or official shall adopt or enact a sanctuary policy. An entity that adopts or enacts a sanctuary policy is ineligible to enter into any grant contract with the department of economic and community development until the sanctuary policy is repealed, rescinded or otherwise no longer in effect.”

In short, state and local officials such as the police would have to inquire to the status of an immigrant and communicate that status to federal institutions and might have to detain immigrants who illegally entered the U.S.

Back in April 2018, the lobby group Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRCC) called HB 2315 a “mass deportation bill” and said it “would make Tennessee a dangerous place for immigrant families and cement our state's reputation as hostile and unwelcoming,” trying to veto it. There was a public protest in Nashville last summer.

This week, two Senate bills, 0931 and 0507, were passed out of committee that, if they became law, would reverse some of the effects of HB 2315. Senate bill 0931 excludes certain state and local governmental entities from that prohibition to adopt or enact sanctuary policies.

Senate minority leader Jeff Yarbro, a Democrat from Nashville, introduced the bill.

"The job of law enforcement is to promote public safety and investigate crimes, but they cannot do that effectively when large portions of our communities are afraid to call the police or serve as witnesses," Yarbro said in a press release. "I want my local police department to be able to enact common-sense policies that keep our whole community safe, including being able to reassure immigrants who are victims and witnesses that they can cooperate without losing their families."

Memphian Senator Raumesh Akbari, also a Democrat, introduced another Tennessee Senate bill regarding this issue (No. 0507). It requires reimbursement of local entities using federal money when they comply with federal immigration laws.

"Too often the state legislature saddles local governments with costly, unfunded mandates," Akbari said in a press release. "We believe it's critical the state understand the true cost of legislation like HB 2315 and that the state legislature takes responsibility for the legislation it passes. Memphis is a city that celebrates diversity and people there don't want local resources committed to anti-immigrant campaigns."

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