VOL. 132 | NO. 129 | Thursday, June 29, 2017
Tennessee, Left Coast a World Apart on Immigration
By Sam Stockard
San Francisco resident Terry Karlsson relishes her hometown’s reputation for embracing “multi-cultural diversity.”
The wife of a Swedish immigrant, Karlsson says she believes San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary city, one in which it refuses to participate in the enforcement of federal immigration law, reflects a nation born of people who moved here, a land of immigrants from many countries.
“We’re all foreigners to this planet Earth,” she continues while enjoying a beverage with her two sisters at a table outside the Magnolia Pub & Brewery on Haight and Masonic streets in the city’s Haight-Ashbury District. The area famous for beatniks and hippies has evolved into more of a cool tourist area highlighting its psychedelic and “Summer of Love” era, though free spirits still abound.
“I respect nationality in a lot of ways and cultures within the countries,” she says.
“But I also am a big believer, at this point in time where we are with technology and how we travel globally, we’re just a global society now. Like it or not, that’s the way we are.”
Amid calls by President Donald Trump to block off Mexico and suspend international travel from several countries linked to terrorism, Karlsson supports more open borders and calls the “limitation of creating and building walls” a divisive measure.
While acknowledging the city is a “little edgy” and has its share of problems, she says the city’s philosophy offers “support” for those living on their own terms.
Six hours south, in Los Angeles, the city of dreams, Dodgers and a massive Hispanic and Asian populace, City Hall takes a similar stance as San Francisco.
But while Bay Area officials flat-out refuse to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), saying they will remain sanctuary cities regardless of Trump’s threats to cut funding, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti takes more of an immigrant-friendly stance similar to one Nashville is considering – one in which it will not enforce immigration law or use city time and dollars to check people’s immigration status but will hold suspects with probable cause or a judicial warrant.
“Immigrants do not stand alone in Los Angeles, and this city is bound to the American values of equal justice and due process,” Garcetti explained after the city council passed a measure recently enabling $2 million for the L.A. Justice Fund, which is used to provide representation to people targeted for deportation.
Garcetti points out the fund is about more than money and means “more Angelenos will have legal protection, more families will stay whole and more people will be able to build lives with the people they love, in the country they chose.”
Of course, Los Angeles is no different than any other big city. It has its share of people who aren’t fond of immigrants or illegal immigration.
The day after Trump won the election last November, people say LA’s City Hall was inundated with calls from people asking for their illegal neighbors to be deported.
Garcetti, instead, chose to sign an executive order in March to protect the city’s immigrants, prohibiting local authorities from partnering with ICE on civil immigration enforcement, among other policies.
“All residents of Los Angeles must feel safe and supported when accessing the vast array of city facilities, programs and services available to them,” his order states.
“The city will not assist or cooperate with any effort by federal immigration agents to use public facilities or resources for the purposes of enforcing federal civil immigration law.”
Trump threatened to cut funding to sanctuary cities early in his administration, even though there is no official designation as “sanctuary city.” Such a move would cost these cities millions in federal dollars, a prospect that worries some people there.
But more than likely, withholding money wouldn’t bring these economic engines to a halt, no more than stopping the flow of federal funds to Nashville would kill country music.
Tennessee’s conservative legislators typically scoff at California politics and probably won’t be kind to Nashville if Metro Council adopts the Nashville Together ordinance stopping city personnel from assisting the feds with immigration enforcement.
State Sen. Jim Tracy, who passed legislation in 2009 prohibiting the establishment of sanctuary cities in Tennessee, says any council action to “skirt” that law would draw a “strong legislative response.”
The law prohibits local government from adopting an ordinance or policy stopping officials or employees from complying with federal law in regard to people who live in the state illegally.
Tracy and House Speaker Beth Harwell requested an attorney general’s opinion on Nashville’s proposal even before final adoption, with the speaker saying local, state and federal law enforcement must work together to keep families and communities safe.
“The Tennessee General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a ban on sanctuary cities in 2009, and this ordinance demonstrates a reckless disregard for state and federal law,” Harwell stated.
“Speaker Pro Tempore Tracy and I are seeking clarity from the attorney general so we can determine how best to proceed. This is not only a public safety issue for Nashville, but for our whole state.”
Tracy, meanwhile, says he has spoken with legislative legal counsel and doesn’t think Nashville’s proposed ordinance will affect state or federal law.
The Bedford County Republican points out Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall opposes the measure and, as a constitutional officer, has to follow the nation’s and state’s laws and wouldn’t have to answer to the council ordinance.
The Davidson County jail held 562 prisoners last year who were illegal immigrants. If the ordinance had been in place then, the sheriff would have had to release those people, Tracy says.
Tracy doesn’t feel opposition to the measure would hammer the immigrant community, he says, because ICE is looking for the “bad criminals,” who’ve probably broken the law more than once.
Despite tough talk in the initial release, though, Tracy emphasizes he doesn’t think the ordinance will do anything.
“Maybe it makes them feel like they’re doing it. It’s more of on an emotional basis, is what I think. … But at the end of the day, we are a state of laws and a nation of laws, and the law will overcome that. That’s what our lawyers think,” he adds.
Still, until the matter plays out, Tracy says he isn’t sure if the Legislature will take action against the Nashville next year.
House Majority Leader Glen Casada, however, says Metro Council should follow Hall’s lead.
“Not only would this ordinance violate both state and federal law, it would also make Nashville’s immigration policies more liberal than that of even California,” Casada says in a statement.
Casada contends such a move puts Tennesseans in “harm’s way” and says he and other legislators will stand against it.
The Thompson Station Republican’s statements tend toward the political instead of a word-for-word interpretation because the ordinance clearly states it would be “suspended or superseded” if found in conflict with state and federal laws and found unenforceable.
It also states Metro will abide by applicable laws and respond to warrants issued under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.
Hall says he agrees the ordinance definitely would change the way he operates, and an opinion by Metro Law Director Jon Cooper released Tuesday stated the ordinance “would not be legally binding on the sheriff. Under state law, the council cannot prohibit the sheriff from cooperating with federal authorities related to immigration.”
Speaker Harwell says she concurs with Cooper, saying Hall’s authority can’t be restricted by the Metro Council since his duties are set by the Legislature.
Hall, who says he will continue detaining prisoners at the feds’ request, calls the ordinance “template language” used by immigrant advocates nationwide to prevent law enforcement from working with the feds by requiring federal judges to sign ICE warrants, a procedure ICE agents don’t use.
In the last three months, all detainers issued by ICE have a warrant attached, Hall says.
But the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t actively interview or screen a person for immigration status, he says. It doesn’t have to.
The fingerprints of people booked at Davidson County’s jail are sent automatically to ICE, the FBI and other agencies.
If ICE gets a hit on an illegal immigrant, someone who’s in the system already for deportation, they’ll send a detainer with a warrant attached, according to Hall.
“I don’t have any staff involved on the front end, but I have staff involved if they send me a warrant and detainer to hold them because then I have to process the warrant and hold them for them,” Hall says.
“This bill basically takes all of that away. I wouldn’t be able to detain anybody.”
Metro Council outlook
In light of the law director’s opinion determining the measure would not apply to Hall, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry encouraged Metro Council to reconsider whether the ordinance is “appropriate or necessary,” since Hall has said he would keep honoring federal detainer requests.
“Additionally, the Metro Nashville Police Department has concerns that the ordinance would prohibit them from recommending U visa applications for immigrants who are victims of crime and willing to help put dangerous criminals in jail. Losing that law enforcement tool could jeopardize public safety and would run counter to the intentions of the sponsors to make Nashville a more welcoming city for new Americans,” Barry says in a statement.
It’s unclear whether Councilmen Bob Mendes and Colby Sledge will press forward with the bill, though they reportedly appear ready to keep going. But this certainly throws a monkey wrench into their plans.
The measure passed 25-8 on June 20, and final consideration is set for July 6.
While Sledge and Mendes argue the ordinance sends the message it’s safe for immigrants to participate in local government, including tipping off police about lawbreakers, its primary opponent, Councilman Bob Swope, a Trump campaign director, says it would give preferential treatment to illegal immigrants and criminals.
U.S. Rep. Diane Black also opposes the ordinance and last year introduced legislation to stop sanctuary cities from popping up across the country by withholding federal funding from towns that keep law enforcement officers from cooperating with feds.
“Sanctuary cities thumb their nose at Congress, they flout the law, and they endanger the lives of their own citizens,” she states on her website.
Black and several others, including Casada, point to a case in San Francisco where an illegal immigrant released from custody after being deported five times wound up murdering a girl in July 2015 as she walked with her father on the Embarcadero.
The Gallatin Republican, who is mulling a run for governor, reiterated her opposition to sanctuary cities in a recent Reagan Day dinner in Murfreesboro, along with announced gubernatorial candidates Randy Boyd and Bill Lee, all of whom said no Tennessee cities would hold such status under their watch.
Regardless of the intentions of Sledge of Mendes, expect the Legislature to slam their ordinance if it takes effect. The General Assembly, mainly Casada and lawmakers from Williamson County, has a penchant for telling Nashville what to do, from how to handle affordable housing to guns to bus stations and LGBT policies.
Legal action within Metro government before the Legislature convenes in January 2018 wouldn’t be surprising either.
So, as Nashville takes its place as one of the top tourism destinations in the country, akin to San Francisco, it lies in the midst of a sea of red, with only Memphis to the west as a real political ally at the legislative level.
The two cities hold little hope among supermajority Republicans in the House and Senate, where illegal immigration is an emotional issue and a key campaign point.
But right now, Nashville is the only one testing sanctuary city waters.
While San Franciscans are hardly sitting on edge waiting for the Legislature here to hit Nashville over the head, Karlsson and her sisters wish anti-immigration views would fade into the sunset, much the way red and yellow hues dissolve into the Pacific past Ocean Beach.
As the sounds of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead drift through a San Francisco evening, they are realistic in recognizing their city is hardly the definition of perfection.
“But the more open-minded you are in embracing something different, I feel like people are truly happy here,” Karlsson says. “They can live the life that they want to live and people embrace that.”
Sam Stockard can be reached at email@example.com.