NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Immigrants’ rights advocates say two bills introduced this week by Democrats in the Tennessee Legislature will help restore public trust in law enforcement, public services and schools after last year’s passage of anti-sanctuary-city legislation.
Current Tennessee law mandates that state and federal agencies detain and report undocumented residents to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It was met with controversy in last year’s Legislature, but still passed.
Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition, said the anti-sanctuary-city law has been a source of fear and confusion across the state.
“We’ve gotten calls from parents who are unsure they should enroll their children in school, fearful of going to the health department for even critical services,” she said, “people who are reporting crimes – like domestic violence – at much lower rates, for fear that these routine encounters with the government will land them in deportation proceedings.”
House Bill 1110 would exempt certain agencies from the anti-sanctuary-city law, including health and educational institutions. HB 558 would require the state to reimburse localities for expenses incurred in complying with the law, and creates a reporting mechanism to track those costs. Both have companion bills in the state Senate.
Then-state Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, who championed the original legislation restricting sanctuary cities before being elected to the U.S. House in 2018, said it “put Tennesseeans first.”
Together, Teatro said, this year’s legislation would help clear confusion for government workers and agencies.
“So the two bills that were filled are an effort to offer some relief to these public employees,” she said, “and some reassurances to immigrant communities around some of the most harmful provisions of the bill that passed last year.”
If just 10 percent of undocumented immigrants left Tennessee, the state would stand to lose $21 million in tax revenue, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.