Tennessee’s “New Sanctuary” City Law (Part 1)

I have recently been hearing a lot of talk and concern from clients about the new “sanctuary city” law which was passed by the Tennessee State Legislature in April 2018. They are right to be alarmed, because this law, if/when fully enforced, will devastate the Latino community. But it will also ruin the business community and suddenly tank within a few weeks or months the whole economy of the entire State. It’s a supreme irony that this law ever saw the light of day because Tennessee does not have even one “sanctuary city”, and no local government has ever come close to passing one.

Despite the folly in enacting this law, it’s important to understand both what this law actually does and has the power to do. This legislation creates a brand-new chapter in Tennessee law dealing with immigration and claims that it is being enacted to help the state “comply” with and “enforce” federal immigration laws. It also creates an entirely new state immigration bureaucracy to enforce federal immigration law.

Stop right there. The State of Tennessee did just fine for 222 years without an immigration chapter in Tennessee law or an “immigration” bureaucracy. You know why? Because immigration is not a state or local government function – it’s a function of the federal government and the federal government alone. There is absolutely nothing that federal law requires a state to do to enforce immigration law.

Now that doesn’t mean that some state or local government political leaders haven’t tried to get in on the “immigration act.” You know what that tells you? Such a “leader” is nothing more than a 2-bit politician trying to demagogue his way to a higher office by riding a bucking bronco called xenophobia (a fear or hatred of foreigners). A few years ago, Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall signed a “287(g) agreement” with the Department of Homeland Security which provided that he would detain all undocumented immigrants for an extra 2 days after they were eligible for release on the state charge for which they were arrested. The program was a total fiasco before Hall was forced to end it. Metro’s police department under then-Chief Ron Serpas was allowed and encouraged to do racial profiling of Hispanics. I had hundreds of clients who were arrested for “driving while Hispanic” – I even had four clients who were arrested for fishing without a license. One of my Hispanic clients was arrested for waiting at a laundromat for his boss to pick him up since he couldn’t drive (by the way, he now has a green card). And Sheriff Hall had very “conveniently” forgotten to tell Metro Council that Metro had to pick up the tab for that 287(g) programs (except for training and select equipment). Unreimbursable overhead for these programs typically run into the millions of dollars. As Nashville locals know, 287(g) didn’t do an effective job of setting up Sheriff Hall to become mayor (he didn’t even run).

But poor Tennessee never learns.

This “new sanctuary” city law:

  1. Contains serious constitutional flaws (such as preventing local law enforcement from requiring the Department of Homeland Security to obtain valid search warrants);

  2. Transforms all conceivable law enforcement agency personnel (including local police and even campus police) into immigration agents (whether they want to be or not) and whether or not properly trained;

  3. Requires all detention facilities and jails to honor immigration detainers even without time limits and even if illegally issued;

  4. Permits any local citizen to file a complaint with the Attorney General if he/she suspects any violation of the new law has been committed, which could be interpreted to mean if any Hispanic is spotted on the street.

Legal challenges to these provisions and others will overwhelm attorneys with the State. But that’s just the beginning. The next part will examine what businesses can expect.