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Tennessee’s anti-sanctuary city law goes into effect on New Year’s Day

The legislation forces local governments to abandon sanctuary city policies by cutting off state funds if they do not comply.

A new Tennessee law is set to go into effect on January 1, which will end local governments' access to state economic development funds if they do not comply with a ban on "sanctuary" policies. Pictured: Governor Bill Haslam speaks on April 15, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo credit: Jason Davis/Getty Images)
A new Tennessee law is set to go into effect on January 1, which will end local governments' access to state economic development funds if they do not comply with a ban on "sanctuary" policies. Pictured: Governor Bill Haslam speaks on April 15, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo credit: Jason Davis/Getty Images)

A new Tennessee law is set to go into effect on January 1, which will end local governments’ access to state economic development funds if they do not comply with a ban on “sanctuary” policies.

The term “sanctuary city” does not have any official legal meaning. It refers to local jurisdictions that do not obey federal detainer immigration requests and other efforts to locate and deport undocumented immigrants. Since the Trump administration began shifting focus to sanctuary cities, forcing them to comply with such requests, many states have introduced policies barring local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration officials altogether.

The Tennessee law takes aim at those policies, which restrict compliance with detainers and necessitate federal officials get a warrant or show probable cause before local governments comply. In May, Gov. Bill Haslam (R) said the bill “stirred up fear” that was “unfounded” but did not stop it from becoming law.

According to The Commercial Appeal, Shelby County jail, which recently stopped complying with federal immigration detainer requests, will be directly impacted by the law. The Shelby County attorney’s office said in April that the jail can’t continue to hold people after their release dates, solely at the request of federal immigration officials, because the local government could be violating the U.S. Constitution.

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In a legal opinion, County Attorney Kathryn W. Pascover and Assistant County Attorney E. Lee Whitwell said detainer requests could violate the 10th Amendment, which limits the federal government’s power over local governments, and the Fourth Amendment, which protects against arrests without probable cause. However, the sheriff’s office still lets Immigration and Customs Enforcement know when people are being released from jail, allowing for ICE to arrest immigrants immediately afterward.

Lisa Sherman Nikolaus, policy director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, told The News & Observer that, although she doesn’t foresee immediate sweeping changes to policy, “We’re more concerned about your rogue police officer, or your rogue school administrator, or something, thinking that the bill gives them certain powers to do certain things, like all of a sudden start asking about immigration status.”

The state education department recently released guidance to schools letting districts know that students can’t be denied a public education because of their immigration status and that parents are not required to share information about immigration status.

This year, lawmakers in several states, including Alabama, Iowa, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Massachusetts, proposed more than 60 bills on the issue of sanctuary cities, requiring local governments to comply with ICE.

In April, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) signed a bill banning sanctuary policies, threatening to revoke state funding from local governments that don’t support ICE efforts. Iowa City, which will be directly affected by the ban, which goes into effect New Year’s Day, currently has a policy of not committing local resources to enforcing federal immigration law.

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Rita Bettis, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa legal director, released a statement when the law was passed saying, “Let’s be clear. It violates a person’s constitutional rights for lowa law enforcement to hold them without a warrant or probable cause of a crime.”

In Colorado, state lawmakers considered a bill earlier this year that would have left local elected officials and cities liable for crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, ignoring the fact that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than anyone else. The bill died in committee.

Other states are fighting to protect sanctuary policies. California’s sanctuary law, which limits local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration officials, went into effect this year. Florida also considered a bill that prohibited agencies from “making inquiry or recording information concerning person’s immigration status” among other measures. And in January, Hawaii lawmakers introduced a bill that would bar state agencies from complying with detainer requests without a judicial warrant. Both the Florida and Hawaii bills died in committee.

Some cities with sanctuary policies have also created legal defense funds and have taken other measures to protect undocumented immigrants, such as legalizing street vending, which would likely prevent the detainment of immigrants and decrease their chances of being deported.