Latest Sanctuary City “Ban” Goes Into Effect in Tennessee on New Year’s Day

Tennessee Prosecutors are seeking over $11 million in fines.

NYTimes Charles Mostroller Belatina
Photo Credit Charles Mostroller NYT

Beginning January 1st, 2019, Tennessee will be the latest state to enact a “sanctuary ban” at the state level. Tennessee will be joining Texas, Iowa, and several other states in having passed laws that are designed to discourage or punish local law enforcement for not cooperating with federal immigration authorities’ effort to expel undocumented immigrants from their communities.

Though the state has an existing 2009 law in place prohibiting cities from passing sanctuary measures, the new law permits the state of Tennessee to withhold state funding from localities that are acting as “sanctuary cities” by refusing to aid or share information that would help federal forces to track down, detain, and deport undocumented immigrants who are living in the state. According to Nashville Public Radio, the latest measure also demands that local law enforcement detain people “even when sheriffs have evidence that they’re not [in the country illegally].”  

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam declined to put his signature on the bill after it passed the house and senate in May of 2018, but the law was voted in by a resounding majority of elected officials shortly after a massive raid at a meatpacking plant in Morristown, Tennessee in which nearly one hundred Latino workers were apprehended by ICE.

It is unclear how the Tennessee law will play out among local law enforcement in the state. Looking to Texas, the state’s sanctuary ban hasn’t resulted in a spike in detentions or deportations thus far; however, the state is currently in the process of leveling a hefty fine to the city of San Antonio, its police department, and police chief over the release of suspected undocumented immigrants rather than detaining them for ICE. Prosecutors are seeking over $11 million in fines.

Heightening Fears in Immigrant Communities

As for how the ban will affect Latino immigrant communities in Tennessee, it will undoubtedly heighten the existing fear that Tennesseans have had of being separated from their families and being deported thereafter.

Ana Gutierrez of Knoxville explained to The Tennessean last May that her parents had already begun to take legal precautions to protect their family in anticipation of the worst. Specifically, her parents gave her power of attorney over her two school-aged siblings. “In my case, if my parents were to be apprehended or taken somewhere for some reason in terms of immigration, it would be me who would take care of my brothers.”