New Immigration Law and the Effects on Immigration in Tennessee

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed the HB 2124/SB 2576 bill into law on April 12, which enhances the tough measures established under the 2018 HB 2315. The new immigration law in Tennessee says law enforcement officials and agencies “shall” cooperate with federal officials and agencies in immigration tasks already established in state law.

The new wording replaced the stipulation that law enforcement officials and agencies “are authorized” to cooperate with federal officials and agencies as part of the toughened-up 2018 state immigration laws.

The new immigration law, which comes into effect on July 1, requires law enforcement agencies to communicate with federal immigration authorities (specifically the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)) when they discover people in their custody are in the country illegally.

The new immigration law also mandates state law enforcement agencies to broadly cooperate with federal agencies in identifying, apprehending, detaining, and deporting undocumented immigrants in the United States.

It was introduced in January and sponsored by Sen. Brent Taylor, R-Memphis and Rep. Rusty Grills, R-Newbern. It passed in the House on March 14 in a 74-22 vote and later got the nod in the Senate on March 25 in a 26-7 vote before being signed into law.

Tennessee has joined other Republican-led states, including Texas, Iowa, and Louisiana, in deploying their authorities to immigration.

Image is of a small American flag laying on top of letterhead for the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, concept of new immigration law in Tennessee


Potential Effects of the Bill

While proponents of the new measures have tried to allay fears that the new law will, in effect, mandate racial profiling, many opponents of the bill remain adamant about its potential negative impact on the immigrant community.

Bill sponsor Sen. Brent Taylor noted that the new law was meant to apply when law enforcement officers and agencies, such as sheriff’s departments, learn of someone’s illegal immigration status while in their custody for another alleged crime.

He also added that the new immigration law is not meant to separate children from their parents. He noted that “nothing” in the new immigration law authorized law enforcement officials and departments to go down and hunt individuals with Hispanic appearances, stopping them and demanding papers.

However, the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) noted the broad nature and wording of the law and the potential to give more authority than intended.

While criticizing the governor for signing the bill into law, Lisa Sherman Luna, the executive director of TIRRC’s voter engagement arm, noted that legal experts, police chiefs, educators, and domestic violence victim advocates had sounded warnings of the adverse effects the law would have on immigrants.

In an AP article on the new immigration law Luna said that by signing the bill into law, Gov. Lee had green-lit a law that had the potential to “open the doors for” unlawful detention, racial profiling, and family separation.

Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, who was the only Republican to vote against the bill, noted that the new measures had the potential to affect children adversely. Gardenhire said there was potential for school resource officers to report immigration status to local authorities, who are mandated to report the same to federal agencies.

Additionally, he noted that the new law did not have a minimum age for it to apply. Consequently, the law has the potential to mandate local authorities to process the detention and deportation of children, leading to parent-child separation.

While commenting on the bill for a new immigration law, Gardenhire asked about the age of accountability, asking, “When does that child know? They’re breaking the law. When does a five-year-old know when they’re breaking the law?”

While opposing the bill, Sen. Charlane Oliver, D-Nashville, said the law could potentially curtail the freedoms of the minority. She noted that the law had the potential to use law enforcement to target immigrants, akin to what slave patrols did in the 1800s or how Jews in Nazi Germany had to wear yellow badges to move freely.

The new law further enhances the perception among foreign nationals that they are at increased risk while interacting with law enforcement, as created by HB2315. As such, the new law might make immigrants even more hesitant to interact with law enforcement, even when they’re victims or witnesses.

This might undermine local law enforcement efforts, including investigating and prosecuting crimes involving immigrants, as they may feel unsafe interacting with law enforcement authorities.

Consequently, the law might also cause difficulties in law enforcement. In their contribution to the bill of a new immigration bill, the Metro Nashville Police Department noted the bill might have adverse side effects on law enforcement.

A Nashville police spokesperson said the mandate to report immigration status to federal agencies had the potential to erode the trust the department had built with immigrant communities. Moreover, this law dissuades immigrant witnesses or victims from cooperating in investigations.

Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, opposed the bill, noting it would affect the effectiveness of law enforcement and highlighting the potential for making it harder for immigrants to report crimes such as labor exploitation, wage theft, and housing discrimination.

If You Need Help With a Case and the New Immigration Law, Call Nash Law Today

At Nash Law, we have the experience to help you through any issues that may arise during your naturalization process, or if you are facing deportation orders. Call us today at 615-NASH-LAW for help with your case.

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