Advocates demonstrate against Tennessee's anti-immigration laws | City limits


“El pueblo unido jamás será vencido.”

“The people united will never be defeated.”

Hundreds of people chanted this classic protest phrase in Spanish and English in downtown Nashville on April 4 as they demonstrated against the Tennessee General Assembly's passage of HB2124/SB2576 and called on Gov. Bill Lee to veto the bill. The bill requires law enforcement to report knowledge of undocumented individuals to federal officials and cooperate with them in their “identification, apprehension, detention, or deportation.”

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Rusty Grills (R-Newbern), introduced the legislation to a committee for “coercion.” [law enforcement agencies] to contact federal authorities” because someone is in custody who is not legally in the United States. Dozens of Republicans supported the legislation in both the House and Senate.

Critics of the bill view the mandate as additional work that will overwhelm understaffed law enforcement agencies and increase distrust between police officers and the immigrant community. In March, Rep. Justin Pearson (D-Memphis) voiced another common criticism, calling the legislation “rooted in racism and xenophobia.” Metro Nashville Police Department officials say this scene They fear the legislation could “undermine the trust we have worked hard to build with immigrant communities over a period of years” and could “discourage some Nashville residents from cooperating with our officials” while investigations are underway.

“This bill will exacerbate the racial profiling already occurring in our communities, where anyone who looks like an immigrant or speaks with an accent becomes the target of traffic stops and arrests,” Sabina Mohyuddin, executive director of the American Muslim Advisory Council, said at the rally last week.

April 4 rally against HB2124/SB2576

April 4 rally against HB2124/SB2576

Despite the protest and calls for a veto, Lee is almost certain he will sign the bill into law. It aligns with his policies and those of his Republican colleagues. During a recent trip to the southern border, Lee committed to sending two waves of Tennessee National Guard troops to help “secure our border” amid rising numbers of migrants entering the United States.

Members of Tennessee's U.S. congressional delegation have also visited the border and continued their anti-immigrant rhetoric — even as they voted against bipartisan border security legislation. U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville) faces a defamation lawsuit after falsely accusing a Kansas man of being an “illegal alien” and mass shooter, and several Republican state lawmakers spoke during a “Protect” Event before a crowd of about 100 people “Tennessee's Borders” rally on March 20 at the State Capitol. Amid the ongoing rhetoric, Tennessee's conservative supermajority is accused of creating a climate that emboldens white supremacists, including neo-Nazis who marched downtown in February chanting “Deport all Mexicans.”

HB2124/SB2576 is one of many xenophobic bills that have come up this session and in recent years. A now-failed bill aimed to make driving tests available only in English. Another bill that was eventually introduced would have made transporting undocumented people into the state a Class A misdemeanor.

SB2770/HB1872, currently on hold, allows courts to increase criminal charges up to life in prison without parole for undocumented individuals who commit violent crimes – as well as any adult who commits violent crimes on school grounds. Another (HB2774/SB2158) requires state agencies to track and report on the costs of caring for immigrants. Rep. Jake McCalmon (R-Franklin) said the goal of the bill is to “quantify the costs of illegal immigration” so that the attorney general “has the authority to bring suit against the federal government if he deems it necessary.” The bill comes with significant costs – millions of dollars in local spending to make such reporting possible.

Dulce Castro, an immigrant and longtime volunteer with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, said scene that it was “very scary” to show up to the protest.

“A lot of people don’t have an understanding of immigrant history,” Castro said. “And that is an ongoing challenge that immigrants will continue to face. But that doesn't leave us in the shadows, because we contribute to this condition. We are making a contribution to this country.”

Hamilton Matthew Masters contributed reporting.