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VOL. 11 | NO. 21 | Saturday, May 26, 2018

Editorial: Haslam Wrong to Pass On Veto of Immigration Law

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Encouraging legally suspect legislation on the grounds it probably won’t have much of an effect is not leadership. Yet, that’s the reasoning Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam gave this week when he let a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal immigration agents become law without his signature.

The legislation was broadly billed as a push against sanctuary cities – but those already are prohibited by state law, as Haslam pointed out in a letter to lawmakers that called the bill a “solution looking for a problem.”

“Confusion and fear are never good,” he added. “They are not good reasons to drive political decisions.”

Was he talking about the passage of the bill or his decision to let it become law without his signature – or perhaps both?

Haslam noted the legislation will prohibit police departments from adopting policies not to ask individuals about immigration status, but it also won’t require them to ask about it.

This bill has raised legitimate legal questions and concerns across the state. By allowing it to become law on the premise that it doesn’t mean anything in terms of the ability to enforce it, the governor takes us further from the concept that we are a state as well as a nation of laws.

The Memphis Police Department’s stated policy is that officers don’t ask citizens their immigration status.

“We don’t enforce the immigration laws. We don’t ask the status of any individual,” Memphis Police director Michael Rallings said last month. The reason, he added, is that police want to be in a position to deal with street crime – violent crime – that in our community means those who might be judged to be in the country illegally, whether they are or not, are targeted for robbery and worse.

To deal with those crimes, Rallings says police need open lines of communication that look past immigration issues that are matters of civil law, not criminal law.

For many of the same reasons, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office also has a policy that its deputies don’t ask individuals about their citizenship status or enforce immigration laws.

U.S. Attorney Michael Dunavant, a Trump appointee, has said his office doesn’t work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the administrative removal process.

“If you are found to be in this country without permissions, without a valid permit or visa, you can be administratively removed,” Dunavant said in March. “My office does not engage in that litigation or that action. That is actually a separate court, a separate administrative agency.”

This is complex but clear at a certain level. Why would the Legislature want to destabilize this further in a country where ICE agents have recently questioned the immigration status of people simply for speaking Spanish?

Better question: Why would the governor take a pass on this critical legal issue the very same day he signed a bill that bars law enforcement agencies from housing juvenile pretrial detainees in adult prisons?

Due process is not optional and does not depend on the will of the majority, even a supermajority.

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