Nashville Mayor Megan Barry wrote a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) this week strongly criticizing agents for what she views as inappropriate enforcement of immigration laws, despite the fact that the individuals the agency sought were subject to final orders of removal issued by an immigration court.
“Over the past few days, we have heard disturbing reports of members of our community being stopped, questioned, and even harassed as part of an increased effort to enforce deportation orders for individuals who had previously been convicted of criminal activity,” Barry wrote in her letter Tuesday, which was published by WSMV Channel 4. The letter was addressed to an ICE community relations officer in New Orleans.
Barry’s complaints centered around enforcement efforts among Kurdish immigrants, many of whom are from Iraq. She said she saw a video in which a “Kurdish-American citizen” was “being stopped and questioned by an ICE official for no apparent reason.” Barry took issue with the word “Police” on the officer’s vest.
“Our Metro Nashville Police Department has gone to great lengths in building relationships with our New American community in order to promote public safety,” Barry wrote. “This effort can be undermined when ICE agents act aggressively toward our citizens without properly identifying themselves as agents of the federal government rather than local law enforcement.”
Barry also referred to “allegations that non-criminal immigrants and refugees are being targeted for enforcement actions or swept up in this enhanced activity.”
ICE spokesman Thomas Byrd said in a statement that the word “police” is the most recognized symbol for law enforcement among people from different cultures and language backgrounds.
“Insufficient ‘police’ identifiers will increase the likelihood that a subject may resist, flee or take some other form of aggressive action against our officers,” Byrd said.
Byrd’s statement continued:
As a result of recent negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq, Iraq has recently agreed to accept a number of Iraqi nationals subject to orders of removal. As part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) efforts to process the backlog of these individuals, since May 2017, the agency has arrested 199 Iraqi nationals nationwide; the overwhelming majority of whom had criminal convictions for crimes including homicide, rape, aggravated assault, kidnapping, burglary, drug trafficking, robbery, sex assault, weapons violations and other offenses.
Two individuals did not have criminal convictions but have pending criminal charges for drug trafficking, receiving stolen property and multiple arrests for domestic violence. One individual is a non-criminal with a final order of removal.
As part of ICE’s recent enforcement effort, officers arrested 114 Iraqi nationals in Detroit over the weekend and 85 throughout the rest of the country over the past several weeks. As of April 17, 2017, there were 1,444 Iraqi nationals with final orders or removal. Since the March 12, 2017 agreement with the Government of Iraq regarding removals, eight Iraqi nationals have been removed to Iraq.
ICE focuses its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security. However, as Secretary Kelly has made clear, ICE will not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.
These arrests are consistent with the routine, targeted enforcement action carried out by ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations on a daily basis. All enforcement activities are conducted with the same level of professionalism and respect that ICE officers exhibit every day.
Mayor Barry has been careful to not openly label Nashville a “sanctuary city” insisting instead that it remains a “welcoming city,” the same coded language used by those who support non-cooperation with ICE in order to shield both criminal and non-criminal illegal aliens from deportation.
The Metro Council is considering two bills introduced by Bob Mendes and Colby Sledge, that would formalize Nashville functionally as a sanctuary city. Sledge is married to a co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) that helped draft the bills.
One bill would require immigration agents to get a warrant before asking the jail to hold an inmate believed to be an illegal immigrant on an ICE detainer. The other would end a contract allowing the Davidson County Jail to be used as an immigration holding facility.
The Mendes/Sledge bills are specifically intended to obstruct cooperation with federal authorities working to enforce immigration laws, which is the essential element that qualifies a location as a sanctuary city. Critics say both bills are designed to make Nashville appear technically compliant with the law while essentially functioning as a sanctuary city.
At a rally in February, TIRRC co-executive director Stephanie Teatro encouraged the crowd to sign up to help with efforts “to get ICE out of Nashville.” TIRRC has characterized lawful ICE removals as “mass deportations” in an effort to incite fear among immigrants who are not otherwise subject to removal.