Activists want federal immigration enforcers out of Nashville, but a bill sponsored by state Senator Mark Green would impose penalties on Nashville or any other Tennessee locality that becomes a sanctuary city.
At a rally Wednesday in Nashville, the Tennessee Immigration and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) slammed President Trump’s executive orders calling for stricter enforcement of immigration laws and blasted the presence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the city. “ICE is here in our communities today. They are working in our sheriff’s department, taking people out of our jails,” cried Stephanie Teatro, TIRRC co-executive director. She encouraged the crowd to sign up to help with efforts “to get ICE out of Nashville.”
While Mayor Megan Barry has voiced support for immigrants and refugees, Nashville is not officially a sanctuary city shielding illegal immigrants. City officials have not enacted policies refusing to comply with federal immigration officials. Mayor Barry said on Twitter Jan. 25 that the city’s law department was reviewing President Trump’s executive orders. “While we cannot control border policies here in Nashville, we can pull together as a city by embracing the immigrants and refugees who are an integral part of our community,” she said.
Sen. Green (R-Clarksville) told The Tennessee Star that his bill is an effort to stop sanctuary cities at the front end. So far, there are no sanctuary cities in Tennessee. “The goal here is to say we do not get to pick and choose which laws we’re going to enforce,” he said.
Sen. Green said his bill would take away state dollars from any locality that becomes a sanctuary city, much as President Trump is threatening to take away federal funds. He said his ideas are similar to those of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who has led a movement in his state to ban sanctuary cities. Gov. Abbott blocked funding to Austin on Wednesday after Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez said the city’s jails would no longer honor most federal immigration detainers.
Well over 1,000 people attended the rally Wednesday at the Coleman Park Community Center in South Nashville. Similar rallies and vigils were held across the state. People at Coleman Park held signs protesting President Trump’s three executive orders on immigrants and refugees, one of which has been blocked by a federal judge and is now before an appeals court. That order temporarily barred citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. and suspended the refugee program. Translation services were available at the rally in Spanish, Arabic and Somali. The crowd chanted “No ban, no wall, Tennessee stands tall” and “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here.”
Thania Contreras attended with her mom and younger sister. The three held a large Mexican flag on which they had written the words, “With Jesus there are no borders.” Thania, 13, said, “Jesus accepts everyone for who they are and what they do.”
Ashley Dowsley and her 9-year-old son held a sign reading, “Global citizens.” Dowsley said she’s happy that her son is able to attend a diverse public school in Nashville where he’s learning the importance of getting along with people from all over the world. “We really are all the same,” Dowsley said.
For his part, Colin Harris spent time making signs reading “Our country welcomes immigrants” in Arabic and Persian to bring to the rally. The Vanderbilt University law student, who is from a small town in Virginia, has lived and traveled in the Middle East. His grandfather was a diplomat stationed in Turkey. Harris said that Trump’s executive orders “represent something new and dangerous, an attack on American’s most basic values.”
President Trump and his supporters, however, believe the executive orders defend American values. There is some overlap between the two executive orders on immigration enforcement, but one focuses more on border security and the other on interior enforcement and sanctuary cities. The order on border security notes, “Transnational criminal organizations operate sophisticated drug- and human-trafficking networks and smuggling operations on both sides of the southern border, contributing to a significant increase in violent crime and United States deaths from dangerous drugs. Among those who illegally enter are those who seek to harm Americans through acts of terror or criminal conduct.”
The third executive order barring entry from seven Muslim-majority countries, now held up in court, seeks to “ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles. The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law. In addition, the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including “honor” killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation.”
The goals outlined in the executive orders are common sense, says Steven Undercoffer, a retired sergeant first class with the U.S. Army who lives in Cool Springs. “Unfortunately, common sense is not common,” he said.
Undercoffer said Trump is right to hit the pause button on immigration from the seven Muslim-majority countries and the refugee program to ensure thorough vetting. Undercoffer also supports cracking down on sanctuary cities.
“Are you going to leave your doors and windows open for anyone to come in anytime of the day or night? Probably not. So there’s a double standard,” Undercoffer said. “They’re not going to do it with their homes, so why do it with the entire country?”