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Protesters call on Governor Bill Lee to veto the bill

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Community members marched to the Tennessee Capitol on Thursday evening to protest a recently passed law that would require local law enforcement in Tennessee to communicate with federal officials about a person's immigration status.

Over 200 protesters – along with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, TIRRC Votes, the American Muslim Advisory Council, Casa de la Cultura, Connexión America, Poder Popular, Tennessee Justice for our Neighbors and Workers' Dignity – walked from Public Square Park to the The Capitol urged Gov. Bill Lee not to sign HB 2124/SB 2576, which is currently on his desk awaiting his signature, and delivered a petition signed by protesters and community leaders to the governor's office.

“We are out here to gather and protest over this ICE cooperation law,” said Mallika Vohra, communications coordinator for TIRRC Votes, an affiliate of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. “We wanted to come here and express our opposition to this legislation and to immigration laws in general, because there are a lot of them.”

Looking at the group — some just coming from work, some with children in tow and many carrying homemade signs, flags and banners — Vorah stressed that lawmakers need to recognize who the bill could harm.

“Ideal situation, (Lee) vetoes it and our voices are heard,” she said. “But if it becomes law, it will harm the people who call this city home. That’s why we’re out here making our presence known and making it clear that Tennessee is our home and we deserve to live in private dignity.”

The Senate passed the bill on March 25 by a vote of 26-7, while the House of Representatives passed it on March 14 by a vote of 74-22.

The Rev. Francisco Garcia, associate chaplain at St. Augustine's Episcopal Chapel in Nashville, encouraged the crowd to be proud of their struggles.

“I am here as the proud son of Mexican immigrants who came here decades ago,” he said. “They fought, and they made it here to fight for me and my sisters, like so many here. That's why I want to say that a piece of paper cannot dictate our humanity. It cannot dictate who we are. No nation, no border and no paper.”

The bill, introduced in January, is sponsored by Rep. Rusty Grills, R-Newbern, and Sen. Brent Taylor, R-Memphis. The bill would not only require local law enforcement to disclose a person's immigration status to federal authorities, but also work with federal officials in identifying, arresting, detaining, or deporting undocumented immigrants in the United States

TIRRC Votes released a statement shortly after the bill's passage saying the legislation will only negatively impact Tennesseans – from immigrant families who may face separation to police officers distracted by an unfunded mandate become.

“Even as HB 2124/SB 2576 heads to Governor Lee’s desk, we know our communities are resilient and will come together to protect each other,” the organization said in an Instagram post. “From Memphis to Mountain City, immigrant families have deep roots in Tennessee – we will not stand idly by as our Legislature turns our laws against us.”

USA Today Network – Tennessee's coverage of First Amendment issues is funded through a collaboration between Freedom Forum and Journalism Funding Partners.

Do you have a story to tell? Reach Angele Latham by email at [email protected], by phone at 931-623-9485 or follow her on Twitter at @angele_latham