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


Wednesday Executive Orders: What They Do and They Mean for Tennessee

On Wednesday, January 25th, the President signed two sweeping executive orders that fundamentally shift our immigration enforcement systems and undermine our core American values.

By signing these executive orders, the President has made clear that he’ll do everything in his power to implement his dark vision of America that was outlined in his campaign and election speeches. We fear these orders are just the first in a series of actions that will discriminate against people based on where they’re from or how they worship, creating a climate of fear and chaos in immigrant communities, and undermining our values and fundamental principles.

Below is our quick take on what the orders say, and what they mean to our communities. This is not an exhaustive explainer. There are so many changes outlined in the order, many that we won’t fully understand until they are interpreted and implemented by various agencies.

Stay tuned for more policy updates, toolkits, and resources to make sure your city and county is part of resisting the President’s draconian immigration agenda.

Mass deportations mean everyone’s a priority

One of the two executive orders on Wednesday focused on massively scaling up immigration enforcement in the interior of the country. While he’ll continue to say he’s targeting dangerous criminals with enforcement actions, make no mistake about it: President Trump just gave the greenlight for ICE agents and local police to deport just about anyone.

President Trump essentially declares that all undocumented immigrants in this country are a threat to public safety and national security, massively expanding the definition of who should be considered a “criminal” and declared a priority for deportation. This order allows immigration enforcement agents to define nearly every undocumented immigrant a criminal, and makes it easier to deport them.

Under the order, undocumented immigrants who entered the country without inspection (as opposed to overstaying their visa) are considered priorities for deportation – this is about half of the total undocumented population. Additionally, immigration enforcement agents are instructed to prioritize anyone convicted of any criminal offense (including crimes of status like driving without a license), anyone merely charged with any criminal offense, and anyone who has committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense – but hasn’t even been charged yet. If that weren’t expansive enough, the President included a clause that says anyone who the immigration agent thinks “otherwise pose[s] a risk to public safety or national security” can also be a priority.

Read the order: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States 

The Deportation Force – featuring your local police

During the 2016 campaign, then candidate Trump promised to create a “deportation force” to carry out his pledges of mass deportations. This executive order does that, too.  The order calls for another 10,000 ICE agents to carry out his mass deportations in communities across the country. ICE already terrorizes communities – this increase guarantees we’ll see a lot more agents in our communities.

But, yesterday’s order was also an admission that the President can’t carry out his mass deportations without the help of local law enforcement. He wants to deputize (and coerce – see below) local police to act as immigration agents. In the order, he states, “[i]t is the policy of the executive branch to empower State and local law enforcement agencies across the country to perform the functions of an immigration officer in the interior of the United States to the maximum extent permitted by law.”

This means he’s bringing back the failed Secure Communities program that creates a clear pipeline between local jails and deportations. This program (which operated in all Tennessee jails until it was terminated in November 2014) sends finger prints from the booking process in local jails to ICE, who then asks the jail to hold people so they can pick them up and deport them—using local jails and local taxpayer money to carry out federal enforcement activities.

This also means asking local and state law enforcement to sign 287(g) agreements, deputizing local police to act as immigration enforcement agents themselves. Davidson County residents remember this disastrous program that operated from 2007-2012, which led to the deportation of 10,000 Nashvillians and drove a wedge between immigrant communities and law enforcement, undermining community policing and public safety.

Punishing so-called “sanctuary cities”

Asking local law enforcement to conduct federal immigration enforcement isn’t new, and it’s a recipe for disaster. Not only does this greenlight racial profiling and bias-based policing, but it completely undermines community policing. When immigrant communities see any interaction with local enforcement as the first step in the deportation process – victims will be afraid to report crimes, making our whole communities less safe.

Communities in Nashville organized to end the disastrous 287(g) program and communities in Knoxville organized to stop their Sheriff from entering into an agreement in the first place. In addition, hundreds of jurisdictions across the country (and not just well-known progressive hubs like New York and Chicago) opted out of the Secure Communities program, leading to its eventual termination in 2014.

Because the President knows he can’t carry out mass deportations without the collaboration of local law enforcement, the executive order also issues a threat to take away federal funding streams from cities that refuse. Legal experts believe this is an empty threat, that the federal government can’t coerce local agencies to enforce federal law, but the President likely hopes the threat alone will prevent some cities from opting out.

Shutting Our Doors, Turning Our Backs

The other order issued on Wednesday follows through on one of the President’s most notorious campaign promises: building a wall along the Southern border. While he won’t be able to completely implement this order without additional funds from Congress, the order makes clear he is serious about building the wall and that he’ll get started with all resources already available to his departments.

The order calls for an additional 5000 border patrol agents and the construction of new detention centers along the border – a boon for private prisons. These detention centers will be needed under Trump’s new order because everyone detained (at the border or in our own communities) will be subject to mandatory detention.

The order also reveals big changes to how we’ll treat asylum seekers. About half of the people who arrived at our Southern border last year were unaccompanied children or families who were fleeing unspeakable violence in Central America. These families will now likely languish in detention without getting a fair day in court – completely undermining our principles of due process and our international commitments. 

Read the order: Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements  

The announcement of the border wall comes amidst rumors that the next set of executive orders from the President will include a four-month suspension of the refugee resettlement program and a 30-day ban on migration from seven Muslim-majority countries. Taken together, these executive orders will amount to shut down of our borders. This is not who we are. 


TIRRC condemns the President's executive orders, calls on Tennesseans to defend our values and communities

Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Contact: Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus | Lisa@tnimmigrant.org 

TIRRC condemns the President's executive orders, calls on Tennesseans to defend our values and communities

NASHVILLE – Today, the President announced two executive orders on immigration, ramping up militarization and detention on the border, as well as scaling up deportations and immigration enforcement across the country. These come in advance of orders the President is expected to issue tomorrow that will suspend refugee resettlement, and effectively create a ban on Muslim migration to the United States. 

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

“After less than a week in office, the President has issued extreme orders that fundamentally challenge who we are as a nation. Today's executive orders and those we are expecting tomorrow to ban Muslim migration and suspend refugee resettlement amount to a closing of our doors as a nation, a denial of the founding principles of this country and the promises inscribed on our Statue of Liberty.

Today the president has made clear that he is committed to turning his bigoted campaign rhetoric into bigoted policy. We fear today's announcement is only the first of many steps the president will take that will discriminate against people based on where they are from or how they worship. All Tennesseans must join together to mount a defense against these attacks on our core American values. 

In addition to shutting down our borders and turning our backs on those who are seeking safety here, the President announced he would immediately begin his campaign to criminalize and terrorize communities who already call Tennessee home by creating the deportation force he promised. But, the president's orders also make clear that he'll depend on local communities to fulfill his campaign promises of mass deportations. He wants to bring back the failed Secure Communities program that was terminated in 2014 after losing the support of local law enforcement across the country who recognized it violated community trust. The President is also threatening to punish cities who refuse to be part of his deportation machine.

We cannot let the president jeopardize who we are as a country. We can't turn our back on those seeking safe refuge. We can't stand for mass deportations that will terrorize communities and separate millions of families. 

Since the election, we have been organizing immigrants, refugees, and their allies to stand up to actions like today. We're ready to defend our communities and our American values."

# # #
TIRRC is a statewide, immigrant and refugee-led collaboration whose mission is to empower immigrants and refugees throughout Tennessee to develop a unified voice, defend their rights, and create an atmosphere in which they are recognized as positive contributors to the state. Since its founding in 2001, TIRRC has worked to develop immigrant leadership, build the capacity of its immigrant-led member organizations, help immigrant community members understand and engage in the civic process, and educate the public about policies that would better promote integration of new immigrants and facilitate their full participation in US society. In just a few years TIRRC has grown from a grassroots network of community leaders into one of the most diverse and effective coalitions of its kind, a model for emerging immigrant rights organizations in the Southeast and throughout the United States.


Together, we can make this plan a reality. 

There's no other way to say it: we're bracing for the worst.

The President-elect won the November election on an unapologetically anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, and anti-Muslim platform. As we get ready for dangerous federal proposals, we also have much to do at the state and local level. 

The Tennessee General Assembly is preparing to file a lawsuit against the federal government to end the refugee resettlement program. Local officials, like the city commission in Mt. Juliet, are passing unwelcoming resolutions and discriminating against residents based on their real or perceived immigraiton status. 

In the months and years -- specifically, four years -- ahead, we need to be the strongest and boldest we've ever been. Immigrants and refugees across Tennessee are counting on TIRRC. And we're counting on you.

We've got a plan to building a more just, welcoming, and inclusive Tennessee, but we need your investment to make it happen. With your financial support we can:  

  1. Provide critical services to families at risk of separation adn protect communities from mass deportations. We need to organize immigrants and allies across the state to stop deportations. We'll also scale up community education so that all immigrants know their rights when encountering law enforcement and develop resources to help communitiies prepare for and mitigate the disastrous impacts of family separation. 
  2. Defend DACA. More than 8,000 Tennesseans currently have DACA. During his campaign, President-elect Trump threatened to end the program, and he could do so with the stroke of a pen. We'll use every strategy and tool we have to defend DACA.  
  3. Advance local policy to protect immigrants and expand opportunity. Cities and countries will be the front line of defending immigrants from deportation and turning the tide. We'll advance local policies across the state to ensure that public institutions and cities are safe and welcoming. And we've already started! Earlier this month, we worked with the Nashville School Board to pass a resolution to strengthen and clarify policies that keep ICE out of public schools. See the Tennessean's story: "Nashville school board resolution seeks protections for immigrant students."
  4. Stop harmful policies at the local, state, and federal levels. Whether the legislative threats come from Congress, the Tennessee General Assembly, or local governments, we are ready to play defense. We'll fight to stop Trump's promises of Muslim registries, cuts to critical programs and services, and the scaling up of policing and immigrant enforcement and counter local politicians emboldened by his rhetoric.
  5. Defend refugee resettlement. In the midst of a globlal refugee crisis, the lifesaving refugee resettlement program is at risk. President-elect Trump has discussed shrinking or ending the program. We'll work with refugees and resettlement agencies to tell their stories, build public support for refugees, and counter efforts to turn our backs on those fleeing violence and persecution. 
  6. Build political power for immigrants and refugees. Immigrants and refugees will be a leading force in helping to defend and transform our democracy. Through organizing communities, helping eligible immigrants apply for citizenship, and registering voters, we'll continue building power to effect change at the local, state, and national level. 
  7. Engage U.S. born Tennesseans in building communities where all are welcomed. After a historically divisive election, our Welcoming Tennessee Initiative is more important than ever. We'll grow our efforts to help U.S. born Tennesseans process and understand demographic shifts, and shape a more positive public narrative about immigration.

We're so grateful for your support of our work and hope you'll consider making a contribution in this critical moment.