Tennessee Governor Lee Enacts Legislation Mandating Local Law Enforcement Cooperation with US Immigration Authorities

Tennessee Governor Lee Enacts Legislation Mandating Local Law Enforcement Cooperation with US Immigration Authorities

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Lee of Tennessee signed a bill that says police must talk to federal immigration officials if they find people in the country illegally. The bill also says that law enforcement and immigration officials must work together to find, detain, and remove these people.

It became law on July 1 after the Republican signed it on Thursday. Supporters of the bill say that Tennessee police should do more to help with immigration enforcement. However, immigration advocates say that the bill is too broad and hard to understand, and it could give bad police officers the confidence to target immigrant families.

“When there is an interaction with law enforcement, it’s important that the right people know what’s going on with that person,” Lee told reporters Thursday. “That makes sense to me.” So, I agree with that piece of law.

As the election for president draws near, Tennessee has joined other Republican-led states in wanting to use their government to do more immigration work. They say that President Joe Biden has ignored his duty to police federal immigration law.

This includes a Texas rule that lets police arrest people who come to the U.S. illegally and tell them to leave the country, but the law is still being fought in court. Some parts of the Texas law were copied by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds when she signed a bill this week in Iowa. Louisiana is moving forward with a different bill that is similar to one in Texas. Idaho lawmakers thought about a similar bill but ended the session without passing it.

In Tennessee, Republican Sen. Brent Taylor said that his bill would apply when police, including sheriff’s departments that run jails, find out about a person’s immigration status while they are holding them for another claimed crime.

In this case, Taylor said, “you’re not going down and pulling over someone who looks Hispanic and demanding papers.”

But the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition said that the law is written in a way that makes it possible for it to give more power than Taylor said. The group didn’t like Lee’s choice to sign the bill.

Lisa Sherman Luna, executive director of the coalition’s voter involvement arm, said, “He could have listened to the warnings from police chiefs, teachers, advocates for domestic violence victims, and lawyers and stopped this bad bill from becoming law.” He did not stop the state assembly from becoming more authoritarian; instead, he gave the go-ahead for a law that could lead to racial profiling, illegal detention, and family separation.

That’s what the Metro Nashville Police Department said about the bill. A spokesperson for the Nashville police said the plan could hurt the trust that officers have built with immigrant neighborhoods and make some victims or witnesses less likely to help with investigations.

The Tennessee bill doesn’t say that law officers and officials “are authorized” to help with immigration tasks that are already spelled out in state law. Instead, it says that they “shall” work together. This change was made to Tennessee code as part of a 2018 law that made immigration laws stricter.

A federal law is also mentioned in the bill. This law says that states and local governments can choose to help with some federal immigration law enforcement chores.

According to information from the Tennessee police and sheriffs associations, “most, if not all, law enforcement agencies already communicate with the federal government regarding a person’s immigration status.” This is what the legislative fiscal analysis of the bill says.

As governor of Tennessee, Lee has not vetoed a bill while in office. This is because lawmakers have an easy way to remove a governor. He is one of several governors who have sent National Guard troops to the border. This will cost an estimated $6.4 million over the next two budget years.

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