Immigration Bills in line with State and Federal Law – would not create “Sanctuary City” status

Along with co-lead sponsor Colby Sledge and a growing list of additional co-sponsors, I have submitted two bills to guide Metro’s role in federal immigration enforcement. First reading will be on June 6.

This afternoon, the Tennessean put up a story about the two bills, and describes a letter I wrote to Sheriff Hall to give him a heads up about the legislation and to explain the bills. This post is to provide more information about the two bills.

Here’s the letter I sent this morning. Here, here, and here are three other letters we exchanged in March. We also met in early April. Our exchanges on this topic have been cordial and professional. I don’t know what his position, if any, will be about the two bills. I am providing these letters because they provide a detailed explanation of the issues.

One of the bills would require Metro to immediately exercise its rights to terminate a 1996 contract with the U.S. Marshals Service, and also require Metro to use its best efforts to negotiate a replacement contract subject to the approval of the Council. Under the 1996 contract as written, and as approved by the Council, Metro has authority to hold unsentenced adult males and females charged with federal crimes or who are federal material witnesses in exchange for a daily fee. That contract expressly excludes people who already have been sentenced for crimes, juveniles, and “aliens” (which means non-citizens).

In practice, the Davidson County jail is being used as a regional ICE holding facility for non-citizens (or “aliens,” as described in the contract) who are not charged with any state or federal criminal offense. This contract has been in place for 21 years with no legislative oversight. The new legislation would require Metro to exercise its rights to terminate the contract, and negotiate new terms subject to Council approval.

The only principled push back I have heard so far about this bill is that the contract also allows Metro to house people who are charged with federal crimes. The argument is that we shouldn’t want to undercut Metro’s ability to house citizens charged with federal crimes. My response to this is simple: it has been 21 years since this contract was reviewed. Going that long without review is bad policy and bad practice. It is time for the terms of the 1996 contract to be reviewed by the Council. Otherwise, would this contract really just go on forever?

The other ordinance is intended to facilitate compliance with federal immigration laws within the limited resources of our local government. This ordinance would require that, unless required by federal or state law or a court order, Metro may not use its money, resources, or facilities to assist in enforcing federal immigration laws, or to share information about a person’s custody status or court dates. This ordinance would also prohibit Metro from requesting information about a person’s immigration or citizenship status. Finally, this ordinance would prohibit Metro from honoring an immigration-related voluntary detention request unless it is accompanied by a federal criminal warrant.

Everyone rightly should be concerned about how this ordinance fits with other existing law. First, this ordinance does not make Nashville a “sanctuary city.” Earlier this week on May 22, the Department of Justice issued a memo specifically defining what it means to be a “sanctuary jurisdiction.” There is nothing in the new ordinance that triggers the DOJ’s definition. As an additional precaution, the new ordinance expressly requires Metro to follow all federal law, state law, and court orders including federal criminal warrants.

I have heard through the courthouse rumor mill that there are a few objections floating around. I’ll go ahead and address those here.

One argument claims that this legislation will be harmful to immigrants. I recommend that anyone wanting to explore this argument go locate some immigrants in our community and ask what they think. I am confident that Nashville’s immigrant population will be strongly in favor of this bill.

Another argument is that Metro doesn’t have the power under state law to tell the Sheriff’s employees what to do about anything. I have only heard this objection in the last few hours, and I don’t know who is making the objection. But my initial reaction is that I believe it is long settled law that the Sheriff is bound by the functional, budgetary, purchasing, and personnel provisions of the Metro Charter. So I don’t understand this objection.

Another argument is that this will somehow impact public safety. This argument doesn’t make sense. The bill would require Metro to honor all existing federal and state law. Metro simply would have to stop holding non-citizens unless they are charged with a criminal offense.

In the coming days and weeks, I’ll provide more information about the moral imperative behind these bills. All of Nashville’s residents add their own note of individuality and spark to who we are. When our immigrant neighbors are silenced or muted by fear, Music City is out of tune. These bills will help us celebrate all our voices.





Bob Mendes

Bob Mendes represents all of Nashville as a Council-At-Large member of Nashville’s Metro Council. He is Chair of the Council’s Charter Revision Committee, a member of the Metropolitan Audit Committee, and a member of the Council’s Budget & Finance Committee, Rules & Confirmations Committee, and Ad Hoc Affordable Housing Committee. Bob also practices business law at Waypoint Law PLLC. Bob’s complete bio is here. You can follow Bob @mendesbob.