Tennessee Follows Texas and Iowa to Pass Strong Anti-Sanctuary Bill: Awaits Governor's Signature
By Shari Rendall | May 4, 2018
There has been a distinct shift in the states towards enacting anti-sanctuary laws since President Donald Trump has made enforcing our immigration laws his top priority. Over the past year, three states have passed strong anti-sanctuary legislation: Texas (SB 4), Iowa (SF 481), and now Tennessee (HB 2315). Tennessee’s bill passed the state legislature on April 25. Governor Bill Haslam (R) has been non-committal on whether he will sign it.
Texas’s SB 4 is significantly broader than the Tennessee bill. Yet despite that, the vast majority of its provisions have withstood constitutional scrutiny. In the City of El Cenizo v. Texas case issued in March, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld almost all of Texas’ law. In particular, the 5th Circuit held that it does not violate the Fourth Amendment for Texas to comply with, honor and fulfill detainer requests. The one part the court struck down was a prohibition on officials “endorsing” sanctuary policies, which it said violated the First Amendment.
While the El Cenizo case is binding only in the Fifth Circuit (Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi), it is persuasive authority for all other courts, like the Sixth Circuit where Tennessee is located. Tennessee may be reasonably assured that since most of SB 4 survived a court challenge, its bill will probably too.
Like Iowa, Tennessee’s bill does not contain any criminal penalties but limits its enforcement to civil remedies. The Tennessee bill denies state economic and community development grants to state entities, and local jurisdictions that implement policies intended to interfere with federal immigration enforcement and provide “sanctuary” to illegal aliens. However, Tennessee’s bill is narrower than Iowa’s. Iowa requires 90 days before a non-compliant local government can seek review of whether it has brought itself back into compliance; in Tennessee eligibility begins as soon as “the sanctuary policy is repealed, rescinded, or otherwise no longer in effect.” Essentially, the Tennessee bill allows sanctuary cities to fix themselves. Once they do, they no longer face any further punishment.
Many opposing Tennessee’s bill have argued that the legislation is not needed because Tennessee does not have any sanctuary cities and the legislation is a “solution in search of a problem.” However, the Tennessee cities of Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville have practices that do not allow for full cooperation with federal immigration authorities and are sanctuary jurisdictions whether or not they call themselves such.
Unlike either Texas or Iowa prior to enacting their anti-sanctuary laws, Tennessee has been an anti-sanctuary state since 2009. However, that law was inadequate, covering only written policies and not informal practices. The new bill closes these loopholes in the law—hence why its sponsors, Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville) and Representative Jay Reedy (R-Erin), have repeatedly described it as giving “teeth” to the Volunteer State’s now only nominal sanctuary ban.
The Shelby County Commission, home to Memphis, has already recommended that Governor Bill Haslam (R) veto it, as have open border proponents of immigration enforcement generally, like the ACLU and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.
During his campaign to become governor of Tennessee, Gov. Haslam told voters that “Tennessee is paying a price for the failure of the federal government to effectively secure our nation’s borders and enforce our immigration laws.” He promised to “enforce the state laws on the books and do everything within [his] authority to be sure that Tennessee does not attract illegal activity.” If he vetoes this legislation, Gov. Haslam will be shielding criminal aliens, and this will make Tennessee a magnet for more illegal activity in the state.
Once Gov. Haslam receives the bill, he has 10 days to sign or veto it. If he does not act, the bill becomes law.