Tennessee governor signs bill requiring local officers to aid US immigration authorities

Apr 12, 2024, 8:41 AM | Updated: 8:44 am

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has signed a bill that would require law enforcement agencies to communicate with federal immigration authorities if they discover people are in the the country illegally, and would broadly mandate cooperation in the process of identifying, detaining and deporting them.

The Republican signed the measure Thursday, and it takes effect July 1. While the bill’s proponents have argued that Tennessee law enforcement agencies should assist more in immigration enforcement, immigrant advocates have warned that the bill is broad and confusing and could embolden rogue officers to target immigrant families.

“When there is an interaction with law enforcement, it’s important that the appropriate authorities are notified of the status of that individual,” Lee told reporters Thursday. “I think that makes sense. So, I’m in support of that legislation.”

Tennessee has aligned with other Republican-led states that have also sought to deploy their authorities into more immigration tasks as the presidential election approaches, arguing that President Joe Biden has shirked his duties to enforce federal immigration law.

That includes a Texas law that allows authorities to arrest migrants who enter the U.S. illegally and order them to leave the country, but it remains blocked temporarily in court. In Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds this week signed a bill that mirrors part of the Texas law. Another approach at a Texas-style bill is advancing in Louisiana. Idaho lawmakers considered a similar measure but adjourned without passing it.

In Tennessee, Republican bill sponsor Sen. Brent Taylor said his proposal is meant to apply when law enforcement officers, including sheriff’s departments that run jails, learn the immigration status of someone in their custody for another alleged crime.

“This is not going down and hunting somebody who looks Hispanic, pulling them over and demanding papers,” Taylor said.

But the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition said the law is written broadly and could give more authority than Taylor has claimed. The group criticized Lee’s decision to sign the bill.

“He could have listened to the warnings from police chiefs, educators, domestic violence victims’ advocates and legal experts and stopped this misguided bill from becoming law,” said Lisa Sherman Luna, executive director of the coalition’s voter engagement arm. “Instead, he rubber-stamped the state legislature’s continued descent into authoritarianism and green-lit a law that could open the door for racial profiling, unlawful detention, and separated families.”

The Metro Nashville Police Department raised concerns about the bill. A Nashville police spokesperson has said the proposal could erode the trust its officers have built with immigrant communities and dissuade some victims or witnesses from cooperating in investigations.

The Tennessee bill says law enforcement agencies and officials “shall” cooperate in various immigration tasks already spelled out in state law, instead of saying they “are authorized” to do so, which was put into Tennessee code in a toughening of state immigration law that passed in 2018.

The bill also refers back to a federal law that says it is voluntary for states and local governments to get involved in certain federal immigration law enforcement tasks.

A legislative fiscal analysis of the bill says “most, if not all, law enforcement agencies already communicate with the federal government regarding an individual’s immigration status,” citing information from the Tennessee police and sheriffs associations.

Lee has not vetoed a bill while in office in Tennessee, where lawmakers have a simple path to override a governor. He is among the governors who have sent National Guard troops to the border, at a proposed combined cost of $6.4 million for this budget year and the next.


Associated Press reporters Sara Cline in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.

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Tennessee governor signs bill requiring local officers to aid US immigration authorities