As controversy heats up over sanctuary cities across the U.S., many Mt. Juliet residents are backing the city’s promise that Mt. Juliet will never be one. Frustrated by burdens illegal immigrants place on police and public services and grieved over the loss of a couple killed by an illegal immigrant drunk driver, many people have had enough.
In late November, the city commission unanimously approved a proclamation saying it won’t shield illegal immigrants from enforcement of federal immigration laws. Around 300 cities across the U.S. are regarded as sanctuary cities. Nashville Mayor Megan Barry has signaled that she wants Nashville to be welcoming toward all. However, Nashville is not officially a sanctuary city, having not stated an intent to refuse to comply with federal immigration officials.
Immigration activists quickly denounced the move by Mt. Juliet commissioners. On its Facebook page, the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) called the resolution “unacceptable and irresponsible” and urged its supporters to encourage commissioners to rescind it. The resolution, according to TIRRC, will have a “chilling effect on immigrant families trying to build their lives, start their businesses, and raise their families.”
Supporters of the resolution, however, see it as an effort to ensure that city residents are paying taxes and to deter fraud and crime.
“I do not believe in there being illegal aliens,” said Bobby Naylor, a 60-year-old small business owner in Mt. Juliet. “They need to abide by the federal law.”
Naylor, who has lived in Wilson County for 30 years, says he has seen a huge growth in the immigrant population. He’s concerned that legal residents are subsidizing healthcare and education costs for illegal immigrants.
While critical of illegal immigration, Naylor says he wishes he could do more to help workers he knows from Guatemala who want to become legal. He thinks there should be a way for responsible and hard-working immigrants to become documented. In the meantime, he supports President Trump in his attempts to end sanctuary cities.
“If he has to cut off federal funds to these areas, then so be it,” Naylor said.
Mt. Juliet resident Jason Pierce, 39, agrees, saying Trump is “probably taking the right steps.” There’s no point in having immigration laws if they’re not going to be enforced, Pierce says.
Pierce says the oft-quoted words on the base of the Statue of Liberty about welcoming “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” must be balanced with providing security for American citizens. He worries that criminals and terrorists can easily slip in.
Local residents still mourn a car accident that killed Donna and Sean Wilson in June 2006. An illegal immigrant drunk driver crashed head on into their car. The driver had numerous prior arrests, including for drunk driving, but had not been identified as being in the country illegally until after the wreck that killed the Mt. Juliet couple. The Wilsons were active in their Baptist church.
Ray Justice, a Mt. Juliet commissioner and former Wilson County sheriff’s deputy, says illegal immigration poses vexing problems for law enforcement, especially in traffic-related issues.
“Please understand the frustration of law enforcement when an officer is flagged down and advised there is a Hispanic subject driving illegally,” he said. “We make contact, they cannot speak the language, we ask for a license and we are handed a Mexican license, not valid here. We cite the person to court and they never show up.” Another problem is they don’t have insurance, he said.
Justice says the attitude among illegal immigrants encountered by police is “mostly ignorance of our laws and a shrug of the shoulders when caught violating the law. This is not always the case, but it certainly happens enough to cause frustration.”
There are also problems in theft cases. In theft or other cases involving restitution, rarely does the illegal immigrant pay restitution, Justice said.
Justice says the proclamation passed by the commission means that police will “cooperate with federal authorities when they felt it necessary to enforce federal immigration laws.”
Two executive orders by President Trump allow for more cooperation between federal immigration enforcement and state and local agencies. In Tennessee, state Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville) is sponsoring a bill to prevent sanctuary cities statewide by threatening to cut off state funds.
Mt. Juliet residents say they are not happy that Nashville has promoted a more relaxed stance. In November, Mayor Barry said on Facebook and Twitter, “I do not believe local resources should be used to enforce federal immigration administrative policies. Our police officers are not immigration police, they do not ask about immigration status during stops or conversations with the public, nor do they intend to start now. I will continue to do whatever I can to ensure that Nashville remains a warm and welcoming city that treats everyone with dignity and respect.” More recently, on Jan. 25, Mayor Barry said the city’s legal department was researching President Trump’s executive orders and how they might affect Nashville.
New York City is the most well-known sanctuary city. Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the city’s position in an interview with CNN in late January. There are half a million undocumented immigrants in New York City, he said, and they need to be protected if their communities are to have a good working relationship with police. He said he would not let minor offenses lead to their being detected by immigration officials. Asked if he considered drunk driving a minor offense, De Blasio answered, “Drunk driving that does not lead to any other negative outcome, I could define as that.”