Immigration Ordinance Makes Nashville Safer For All of Us
Linda Rose, Esq.
Bravo to Metro Council members Bob Mendes and Colby Sledge! They took the courageous step of introducing legislation to protect immigrants . . . and to protect all of us. Ordinance No. BL2017 would do the following: It will restrict the use of local funding to local benefits and programs. In other words local funds could not be used to finance federal initiatives. The ordinance will prohibit all government employees, including the police, from asking about or investigating an individual’s immigration status. Thus, police cannot interrogate and arrest an individual simply because the person cannot prove immigration status. And finally, the ordinance will prohibit detention of an individual for immigration officials unless there is a warrant issued pursuant to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. This means the police cannot detain someone for immigration unless the individual is charged with violation of a federal criminal law.
This is incredibly important, especially the prohibition on questioning anyone’s immigration status. Can you imagine a Nashville-born U.S. citizen being requested to produce proof of legal status, and, when the person couldn’t do that on the spot, being detained and arrested? While we haven’t seen that recently in Nashville, it has happened in the past. And it is happening right now in other cities in our country. I recently learned about a young woman in New York City who was a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from the Dominican Republic. She was using public transportation in New York City when she was randomly (maybe randomly isn’t the right word as she had brown skin and was wearing a Muslim-looking head wrap) stopped by ICE agents who demanded proof of her citizenship. When she didn’t have any such document on hand, she was arrested and detained for seven hours until her mother brought her U.S. passport to her. She hadn’t done anything wrong; she was just on her way home from a creative writing course she was taking at a local community college. By the same token, if local police are vested with the authority to require proof of immigration status of anyone, this could just as easily happen to you. Simply put, it’s wrong. And the Mendes/Sledge ordinance would prevent that from ever happening in Nashville.
The other reason this is such important legislation is because immigrants make incredible contributions to our community, our state, and the U.S. as a whole, and we should welcome them. I know that sounds broad, but look around you. Who is working at those construction sites all over this city? Who is changing the sheets on the beds when your guests stay in a hotel? Who is cutting your lawn and cleaning your house? Even better, take a walk through any of our local hospitals and medical research facilities. You will see foreigners, immigrants, people of color, people speaking with accents, some documented and some not. And any of them could be stopped, required to produce immigration documentation, and put in jail for failure to have the right document on hand, even if they are perfectly legal to be here and are contributing to our city and state.
And finally, no one should fear the police. But many immigrants, both documented and undocumented, are afraid to access the police. They are fearful they will be arrested and ultimately deported for a minor infraction of the law, such as driving with a burnt-out tail light. They are fearful if they ask the police for help they will end up in jail. They are afraid they will be arrested in the middle of the night and torn from their families. Some immigrants are afraid to send their children to school for fear they (the parents) will be arrested and deported without any notice, leaving their children alone. These fears are real and reasonable. And in the end they create a waste of resources and money that could be used to improve our city, not detract from it.
Our city relies on the foreign workforce, whether it is in the research laboratories at Meharry Medical and Vanderbilt Medical Center, or at the construction sites in Germantown, the Gulch, and Green Hills, or at your favorite Chinese or Mexican restaurant. We need to honor, respect, and protect the foreign-born residents of middle-Tennessee, and the Mendez/Sledge ordinance does exactly that. Those two council members took a risk in a very anti-immigration climate and proposed the “right thing” for Nashville. But until the ordinance is enacted, be sure to always (always) keep on you proof of your citizenship. The next police stop could be you!
Linda Rose is the Managing Member of Rose Immigration Law Firm, PLC. Her firm represents employers both large and small that rely on the foreign workforce. Her firm also represents U.S. families with foreign-born members.