Nashville Together Ordinances Clear First Hurdle

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

Nashville -  Tonight in a voice vote, the Nashville Metro Council passed two ordinances, BL-739 and BL-743, that were filed by Council Member At-Large Bob Mendes and District 17 Council Member Colby Sledge. Together, the ordinances draw a bright line between the work of local government and federal immigration enforcement and ensure the city isn't helping carry out mass deportation. Tonight's vote was the first hurdle for the ordinances, which will be up for the second of three votes on June 20th. 

The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) is leading the Nashville Together campaign to organize immigrants, refugees, and their neighbors in support of this legislation. Over 80 immigrant community members, faith leaders, and supporting organizations came out to city hall for the first vote, demonstrating the growing, broad support across Nashville. 

Since January 2017, the Trump administration has increasingly blurred the lines between city services and federal immigration enforcement. This has had a chilling effect on immigrant families accessing critical services and participating in the city. Recognizing that the cooperation of immigration communities and public agencies is critical to fulfilling the mission of the city, BL-739 seeks to clarify the roles and responsibility of our local government to reassure residents and encourage participation in public life and cooperation with city agencies. The second ordinance, BL-743, could bring an end to the use of Davidson County jail as an immigrant detention center. The sheriff's office currently detains immigrants that are picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from within and outside of the county for civil immigration violations. 

The following is a quote from Dulce Castro, a TIRRC member who lives in District 7:

"Every day, I am worried and scared for my undocumented parents as they commute to work. I wonder if it will be the last time I see them, and who will take care of my 10 year-old sister, a U.S. citizen, and myself. But, today, I feel hopeful and optimistic that Metro Council has taken this first step to protect immigrant families like mine. While we still have more hurdles to overcome, I am encouraged to see many more immigrant residents joining our campaign, engaging with their local government, and fighting for their families. I hope other communities across Tennessee will follow our example." 

The following is a quote from Abdil Nasir Gedi, a TIRRC member who lives in District 13:

"As black immigrants from a predominantly Muslim country, my community is discriminated against three times over. Since January, we've seen Somali communities across the U.S. being targeted by over-policing, immigration raids, and deportations. For Somalis, deportations are a death sentence. Here in Nashville, Somali families are fearful and anxious about their future, but today, I am happy that Metro Council took the first step to protect immigrant communities. While there is still a lot to do to address discrimination and inequality, I am proud to support the Nashville Together campaign so my community can feel a little bit more secure. These ordinances make us feel a little safer engaging with public agencies without the fear of being separated from our loved ones."

The following is a quote from Stephanie Teatro, Co-Executive Director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC):

"In an era of mass deportations, its critical that our city update and clarify our policies to protect immigrant residents, restore trust in city agencies, and uphold our values. It's fitting that the council considered these ordinances while voting on the city budget. We need to ensure local resources are directed towards local priorities like transit, education, and affordable housing -- not separating Nashville families. While we still have a long way to go, we are encouraged by the support we've received from members of Metro Council and the broad-based coalition organizing in support of the policies."

To learn more about the ordinances visit here.


We're Going to Court to Defend Refugee Resettlement

Tennessee Groups Take Legal Action Against Efforts to Block Refugee Resettlement  

JUNE 2, 2017

JACKSON, Tenn. — Groups serving Tennessee refugees are taking legal action against the state legislature’s efforts to block refugee resettlement.

State lawmakers who oppose refugee resettlement sued the federal government in March, contending that the federal refugee resettlement program improperly impinges on state sovereignty. The Tennessee attorney general previously declined to file the suit, concluding it would likely lose in court.

The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Tennessee represent the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, Bridge Refugee Services Inc., and the Nashville International Center for Empowerment, which are seeking to intervene in the case to defend refugee resettlement in Tennessee. The groups also filed legal arguments explaining why the General Assembly’s lawsuit should be thrown out.

The following are quotes from:

Stephanie Teatro, Co-Executive Director, Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition:

“For too many years, the Tennessee legislature has put our state at the forefront of the anti-refugee movement, seeking to erode support for the resettlement program for political gain. This extreme lawsuit is a betrayal of our state’s values, and if successful, would cause real harm to our refugee members who already call Tennessee home and to their family members abroad who can’t wait to be resettled here and reunited with their loved ones. We are so proud to represent our many members across the state in defense of the life-saving work of refugee resettlement, to stand up for our values as Tennesseans, and to ensure that Tennessee continues to be a place where families fleeing violence and persecution can find safety and opportunity.”

Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director, ACLU of Tennessee:

“By insisting on filing a fear-driven and dangerous lawsuit that targets vulnerable families and selecting a legal group known for its radical anti-Muslim ideology to represent the General Assembly, Tennessee legislators have laid their cards on the table. The actions of these politicians betray the values of fair treatment, equality, and compassion that Tennesseans embrace. We are intervening in this lawsuit to resist this cruel attempt to stop the resettlement of refugees in Tennessee — which is fueled by discrimination and animus toward Muslims that extends to the White House. The majority of Tennesseans believe in helping those fleeing violence and terror to protect their families. With our partners, the ACLU is committed to making clear that these kinds of malicious attacks on our Muslim neighbors have no place in Tennessee.”

Susan Speraw, Chair, Board of Directors, Bridge Refugee Services Inc.:

“The people of Tennessee have welcomed refugees as their neighbors and friends, hired refugees and valued their work, patronized businesses started by refugee entrepreneurs, and celebrated with refugees who have become citizens. We are seeking to intervene in this lawsuit because we believe that resettlement is more than a job — as human beings, it is our obligation to protect the dignity of all and mitigate the suffering of vulnerable people.”

Dov Hirsch, Chair, Board of Directors, Nashville International Center for Empowerment:

“Refugee support services are critical to building and enriching Nashville’s inclusive climate — creating prosperous businesses, organizations, institutions, and communities. The Nashville International Center for Empowerment has delivered vital support to immigrants and refugees in Middle Tennessee for more than a decade. This suit, if successful, would effectively eliminate our ability to assist the most vulnerable populations of newly arrived refugees, and would weaken our thriving community.”


The legal documents are here:




Nashville Files Landmark Bill to Keep City Agencies Out of Deportations


Friday, May 26, 2017
Contact: Stephanie Teatro | 615.498.8847 |



TIRRC Launches Nashville Together Campaign
Legislation filed in Metro Council to keep city agencies out of deportations


Nashville -  Today, an ordinance was filed in the Nashville Metro Council by Council Member At-Large Bob Mendes and District 17 Council Member Colby Sledge to draw a bright line between the work of local government and federal immigration enforcement, restoring trust and cooperation between the city and Nashville's immigrant residents. The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) is leading the Nashville Together campaign to organize immigrants, refugees, and their neighbors in support of the legislation.


The ordinance comes in response to the tremendous wave of fear and anxiety that has swept across Nashville's immigrant community since President Trump began his campaign of mass deportations. In the first 100 days of the administration, the number of deportations has increased by nearly 40% as compared to the same period in the previous year. In his January 25th executive order, the president made clear that all undocumented people would be priorities for deportation and that local law enforcement would be asked to join the deportation force. The Trump administration has increasingly relied on local government agencies to carry out mass deportations, from detaining a domestic violence victim seeking an order of protection in a Texas courthouse to arresting a California father outside of his daughter's public school.


As a result, many immigrants in Nashville have avoided interactions with public agencies and other service providers for fear of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deporting them or one of their family members. A recent national study of advocates for sexual and domestic violence survivors found that 78% of immigrant survivors had shared with their agencies that they have concerns about contacting police; three out of four advocates reported that immigrant survivors have concerns about going to court for a matter related to the abuser. Advocates in Davidson County have reported similar trends. There have also been troubling reports about parents declining to bring their children in for medical appointments and vaccinations for fear of their immigration status being shared with ICE. In response to concerns about declining parent and student engagement, the Board of the Metro Nashville Public Schools passed a resolution in December 2016 clarifying the separation between public school facilities and employees and the enforcement of federal immigration laws.


Existing state and federal law require all local government and law enforcement agencies to comply with federal immigration law, but the way that ICE carries out mass deportations in local communities is aided by voluntary and largely unfunded collaboration. The ordinance ensures the city's limited resources are allocated to local priorities, not carrying out the duties of the federal government. The Trump administration's blurring of the lines between city services and federal immigration enforcement has had a chilling effect on immigrant families accessing critical services and participating in the city. Recognizing that the cooperation of immigrant communities and public agencies is critical to fulfilling the mission of the city, the ordinance seeks to clarify the roles and responsibilities of our local government and to reassure residents. Hundreds of jurisdictions across the country have placed reasonable limits on how they'll respond to voluntary requests from ICE and whether they'll allocate resources to do the work of the federal government.


A second ordinance was filed that could bring an end to the use of the Davidson County jail as an immigrant detention center. The sheriff's office currently detains immigrants that are picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from within and outside of the county.

There are an estimated 33,000 undocumented residents in Nashville, including 8,000 who have at least one child that is a U.S. citizen. 75% of undocumented Nashvillians have lived in the U.S. for at least five years and 26% own a home in Davidson County. A recent poll of Nashville residents commissioned by Vanderbilt University's Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions found that nearly 60% of respondents didn't believe the local government should use local resources to enforce federal immigration law.



The following is a quote from Stephanie Teatro, Co-Executive Director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC):


"The filing of this legislation marks an important moment in Nashville's journey to becoming a more welcoming and just city. When voting on the English-Only referendum, Nashvillians made a clear choice about what kind of city we wanted to be.  Now, as cities across the country are coming under increased pressure from the federal government to help carry out mass deportations, we once again have an important choice to make. 


Immigrant families are deeply rooted in our community. In the face of mass deportations, TIRRC has been organizing immigrant communities to protect their families and defend their right to remain; and they are not alone. Since the election, Nashvillians of all stripes have made clear they oppose mass deportations, which separate families and devastate communities. 


The Nashville Together campaign will organize immigrants, refugees and their neighbors to pass this critical legislation. The ordinances filed today uphold our city's values and proud history of welcoming immigrants. By making it easier for all residents to fully participate and contribute, we'll strengthen and protect our whole city. "


Legislators Deny Students Opportunity for Higher Education House Education Committee Kills Tuition Opportunity  

Legislators Deny Students Opportunity for Higher Education

House Education Committee Kills Tuition Opportunity

Nashville -  Today, the House Education Administration & Planning Committee opted to deny thousands of undocumented students a chance to achieve a higher education and give back to our state. HB0863 was voted down by a 7-6 vote. Reps. Akbari, Brooks, DeBerry, Fitzhugh, Turner, and M. White voted in favor. Reps. Kane, Lollar, Matlock, Moody, Weaver, Smith, and D. White voted against. 

Karla Meza Cruz, an undocumented student from Knoxville, testified before the full committee. Karla and a dozen other students drove in from Knoxville this morning to urge committee members to give them a chance to pay their way through college. 

The following is a quote from Stephanie Teatro, Co-Executive Director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC): 

"The committee room was filled with aspiring college graduates, dozens of students holding signs describing what careers they dreamed of having -- future doctors, lawyers, and entrepreneurs. It is unconscionable that legislators could look these students in the eye and opt to deny them a chance to fulfill their dreams, to more fully contribute to our state, and be part of the Drive to 55.

We elect our representatives to make decisions in the best interest of our whole state. There is a consensus around the Drive to 55 that when more students enroll in higher education, we all win. These hard-working Tennessee high school students are just asking for an opportunity to go to college. Who benefits when legislators close the door and limit their potential? Denying these students a chance to go to college is short-sighted, mean-spirited, and a betrayal of our values. 

Though the dreams of the students have been put on hold for another year, they won't stop fighting for their education. Each year our coalition gets stronger and support  for the bill continues to broaden, students will fight for college access until they win."

The following is a quote from Karla Meza Cruz, a student from Knoxville who drove hours to the legislature to watch the committee cast their vote: 

"Today, it was a great honor to share my story in front of the House Education Committee. I'm a Knoxvillian and a Tennessean. Since I was five years old, I've driven by UT hoping I'd one day be able to enroll. I can't understand why the legislature won't let me pay my pay to go to college and follow my dreams."

 For the past five years, the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) and our members across the state have worked tirelessly on the campaign for tuition opportunity by organizing undocumented students and building a coalition of supporters that includes chambers of commerce, education institutions, the Tennessee Farm Bureau, and Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam.




How We're Resisting Mass Deportations

During the campaign, then-candidate Trump pledged to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants. This month, his draconian campaign promises and dark vision of America comes to fruition as he begins his devastating campaign of mass deportations. ICE launched coordinated enforcement actions, arresting more than 680 people through raids in a dozen states across the country.


The impact of these arrests goes far beyond the hundreds of mothers, fathers, and community members detained. Entire families and communities are devastated, and there is no sign of slowing down. The Department of Homeland Security's recent memos on how to implement the extreme executive actions are terrifying. 


For immigrant communities across Tennessee, the raids have unleashed a wave of fear, panic, and chaos. It can feel as though no one and nowhere is safe: a young man in Washington state who has DACA was detained, a group of men were arrested leaving a church shelter in Virginia, and a domestic violence victim in court was picked up by ICE. 


We have been preparing for mass deportations since Election Day, and we want to share some of the ways we will stop deportations and keep families together. Join us in this work.


How We'll Resist Mass Deportations

Know Your Rights & Deportation Preparedness

Immigrant communities must be prepared for interactions with immigration enforcement and the threat of deportation. We are scaling up community education to make sure immigrants know their rights and prepare their families for the impact of deportation.


Since the inauguration, we've given know your rights trainings to 5,000 immigrants across the state and will host trainings in 10 additional Tennessee cities over the next two weeks. Here's resources and a list of upcoming sessions

With partners in the legal community, we are helping families develop deportation preparedness plans to gather critical documents, make plans for their children and assets, and designate powers of attorney. 


Neighborhood Defense Committees | Comites en Defensa Del Barrio 

Now more than ever, our communities must be organized and ready to defend each other from raids and deportations. Since the election, we've organized Neighborhood Defense Committees (or Comites en Defensa Del Barrio) in 20 cities and continue to launch new committees. 


They will ensure that immigrants know their rights, have access to accurate and timely information about policy changes and raids, and will lead local campaigns to stop deportations. 

Raids Rapid Response

We are developing infrastructure in cities and towns statewide to quickly respond to reports of raids. Our response efforts will be led by directly affected communities; each Neighborhood Defense Committee is developing a 48 hour rapid response plan. We are also identifying important roles for allies to play in the rapid response work. Stay tuned for ways you can sign up to be part of community defense teams.


The Legal Force Against Raids: We're training non-immigration attorneys and law students to serve as "first responders" after raids, visit immigrants in detention, gather critical information, and identify potential forms of immigration relief. 

We'll offer this training across the state, and the first one is in Nashville this Saturday, February 25th from 9am-1:30pm. There are a few spots left - register today

Creating Communities of Trust 


In his executive orders, the president essentially declared the 120,000 undocumented immigrants in Tennessee—our neighbors, friends, family, coworkers—will live in fear of immigration enforcement agents. But to carry out his plan, the President is counting on our local governments and local law enforcement to collaborate and participate in mass deportations.


We'll be driving a local policy agenda in cities and counties across the state to ensure that our local governments and tax dollars don't support mass deportations and that all residents feel safe accessing schools and critical services. If you want to be involved in restoring trust in your community, sign up to join the campaign here