The Metro Council Immigration Bill: Separating Fact from Fiction and Explaining my Votes

Monday, June 26, 2017, 2:58 p.m.


On June 6, 2017, several members of the Metro Council introduced BL2017-739, the caption for which reads “An ordinance to amend Title 11 of the Metropolitan Code of Laws regarding federal civil immigration laws.”

Under Metro Council rules, all ordinances (which are different than resolutions) must pass three readings. On the first two readings, there must be more yes votes than no votes. On third reading, the bill must receive 21 votes out of the 40-member body. (We currently have one vacant seat, so there are only 39 possible votes, but 21 remains the threshold.)

BL2017-739 passed on first reading and second reading. Third reading is scheduled for our next meeting, which will be held on Thursday, July 6.

About the Bill

There’s been a lot of misinformation spread regarding this legislation. Bloggers and media personalities have made demonstrably false statements, and media outlets have used terminology that has made the bill seem like much more than it is. I’ve received e-mails imploring the Council to make Nashville a sanctuary city and e-mails imploring the Council not to make Nashville a sanctuary city. Here are some facts regarding what this bill is and isn’t:

  • The bill is not a “sanctuary city” bill or anything like one. It states in three different places that Metro departments must comply with all state and federal laws and all court orders. It further states that if any section of the bill violates state and federal law, that bill is null and void.
  • The bill will not protect persons eligible for deportation from being deported. Immigration law is immigration law, and nothing Nashville does would change that.
  • To my knowledge, neither Mayor Barry nor anyone in her office has taken a position on the bill. It’s disingenuous to suggest otherwise. (Update 6/28: Yesterday, the Mayor announced her opposition.)
  • Metro Police does not interact with immigration in any way, and they have taken no position on the bill. They have responded to inquiries from Council members asking about how this bill will affect them, and they have stated it will have no effect on them or their jobs.
  • The Sheriff has stated that this bill does not affect him. Metro Legal has tentatively agreed with him. The Sheriff is the Metro government entity who has the most interaction with immigration. (Update 6/28: Yesterday, Metro Legal announced this this position is now their formal conclusion.)

So the question I’ve been asked most is: What does this bill actually do? At this point, my best answer is: nothing. It appears to merely codify practices that have been in place for a long time.

My Vote on Second Reading (June 20)

When the bill came up for second reading, I supported a motion to defer a vote on the bill so that we could continue to gather information prior to the second vote. When that failed, I voted to advance the bill on second reading. I voted yes so that we could continue to learn about this bill, so I could hear from my constituents regarding their feelings on the bill, and because there are vast data that indicate the crime rate falls when all residents feel safe interacting with police. Bills on second reading have a low threshold for passage and I tend to vote yes and then make a final decision on third reading when all the facts are available. That was the case here.

My Vote on Third Reading (July 6)

Upon much research, I’ve determined that the bill doesn’t appear to do much of anything, and proponents and opponents alike have expectations that it will do an awful lot. Those misconceptions could cause great problems, and the fallout could be extremely damaging. The only real benefit seems to be to reassure residents that having your child immunized, sending him/her to school, reporting a crime, or showing up to court as a witness won’t lead to interactions with immigration enforcement – proper or improper.

That is valuable to every resident in our city. However, given that this bill doesn’t implement any policy changes, that education could be provided in other ways than legislation. With no policies to be implemented and a lot of misunderstanding that prove harmful in various ways, I do not feel it’s to anyone’s benefit to support this bill’s passage.

While I will vote against this bill, I would like to commend the sponsors for their hard work drafting a bill that they feel would solve an issue affecting Nashville families while remaining in the confines of federal and state law. There is clearly a wide range of opinions on this bill, and those on both sides of the bill are acting with the intention of making Nashville the best it can be. When this bill is behind us, I hope everyone will continue to work together to make our community special.

(Update 6/28: This afternoon, the bill’s sponsors announced they will be withdrawing the legislation.)