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Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam Bans Sanctuary Cities But Says They Were Never an Issue

— May 22, 2018

Governor Bill Haslam will allow a proposal banning sanctuary cities to take effect in Tennessee without his signature.

The measure, writes The Tennessean, would mandate local law enforcement to comply with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to detain and hold immigrants due for deportation. Cities which refuse to comply could be barred from receiving economic and community development grants.

“I think the best thing for the state to do with this decision is to move on from it,” said Haslam on Monday. Speaking to reporters, the Republican governor said the legislation “stirred up on both sides what I think is some irrational fear.”

Haslam didn’t seem enthused about the measure or its passage but wasn’t willing to oppose it, either. According to the Times Free Press, the governor said critics are wrong in considering it a “mass deportation” bill – and that its proponents were wrong in thinking that Tennessee ever had sanctuary cities.

Hernando de Soto Bridge in Memphis, TN. Gov. Bill Haslam said that his state doesn’t have an “issue” around or with sanctuary cities. Image via Larry Donald/Army Corps of Engineers, via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.

In a letter to several prominent state politicians, Haslam said the bill “is a solution looking for a problem.”

Nevertheless, the governor’s decision to allow its passage sparked immediate and intense outrage from immigration advocates and watchdogs. Protesters staged rallies in Nashville up through last week, asking Haslam to veto the measure.

Christian Patiño, speaking to the Times Free Press, said the bill could be at the head of “a dangerous slope.”

“If they’re requiring police to detain people without a warrant, that can sidetrack officers from doing their duties to becoming immigration officers,” said Patiño, who serves as operations director for La Paz Chattanooga, a local nonprofit. “The priority for officers should be policing communities, and I think this can break the trust and relationships that people have with their police force.”

Patiño’s concern is typical. Proponents of sanctuary city policies often claim that allowing undocumented immigrants to interact with law enforcement – free from the fear of deportation – can lower crime rates by increasing reporting.

But Haslam’s deputy counsel, Todd Skelton, said the measure’s passage wouldn’t change how sheriffs and local police departments work.

“I don’t see anything that’s changed at all,” said Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond, noting that Immigration and Customs Enforcement requires probable cause and warrants for detainers.

“If we vetoed this bill, I’m relatively confident there would at least be a special session,” said Haslam, trying to explain why he approved the controversial measure. “If not, it would be one of the first items that would be discussed in next year’s sessions.”

Haslam, who’s leaving office in January, said he kept his signature off the bill because he believes adding it would mean that Tennessee has an “issue” around sanctuary cities. Immigration, writes the Times Free Press¸ has been a focus of the GOP gubernatorial primary in Tennessee.

“He caved to the most extreme fringe of the electorate,” said Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. “He chose hate and fear over good governance.”


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