Concerns about local cooperation with federal immigration agents have prompted Nashville Mayor John Cooper to convene a new task force. A diverse group of leaders from Metro government, law enforcement and advocacy groups met Wednesday to discuss the complex relationship.
But setting rules for interactions between Metro employees and ICE could be complicated.
When it comes to immigration, many Nashville residents are confused about how local and federal officials work together. And the confusion has only been exacerbated by recent high-profile ICE operations, including an early-morning stakeout in a quiet neighborhood in Hermitage and the shooting of an undocumented immigrant by a federal immigration agent in Antioch.
The Metro Nashville Police Department and Davidson County Sheriff’s Office have both stressed that they do not arrest immigrants on behalf of ICE. And Sheriff Daron Hall announced yesterday that his office would stop renting jail beds to the federal agency, saying that, from now on, he would only cooperate when required by state law.
But Councilwoman Sandra Sepulveda – the sole Latina on the Metro Council – says she wants to ensure that immigrants believe they can trust the local government.
“What I want to see are tangible solutions,” Sepulveda said at the meeting —. “I want to make sure that my constituents aren’t afraid to call law enforcement and don’t have to go knock on their neighbor’s door, because they’re afraid that, you know, something bad is going to happen to their family.”
But building trust in the community is just one piece of the puzzle. Metro employees also need guidance when ICE calls for help.
“It was clear that there was a uniform need for information and clarification of who’s responsible for what and how we communicate that among ourselves and to the public,” said Mary Falls, a representative for the mayor’s office.
The members of the task force — which hail from a mix of Metro departments and nonprofit organizations — were chosen for a reason, she said.
“You all are problem solvers in our community at the very highest levels,” Falls added, “and you all need to be in relationship with each other so that you can feel comfortable calling each other when you have concerns that matter.”
Part of the group’s mission is to increase communication between the mayor’s office and the different agencies and organizations that interact with ICE. Cooper wants to keep track of each instance when federal immigration authorities request information or assistance from Metro employees – even from agencies like the sheriff’s office, which don’t answer directly to the mayor.
But it could be difficult to gather all that data, since it’s hard to know just how many departments receive requests and whether or not employees formally record them. Several people also expressed concerns about potential privacy violations, especially when it comes to ICE’s interaction with the school system.
For now, task force members will review current Metro policies and compare them to immigration-related protocols in other cities. Then, the group will make recommendations that promote safety in the community while still adhering to state and federal laws. The group has just 60 days to file a report.
The task force members include:
- Shanna Hughey, ThinkTennessee President
- Juliana Ospina Cano, Conexion Americas Executive Director
- Hank Clay, Metro Nashville Public Schools Chief of Staff
- Ana Escobar, General Sessions Judge
- Mike Hagar, Metro Nashville Police Department Deputy Chief
- Daron Hall, Davidson County Sheriff
- Mary Kathryn Harcombe, Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition Legal Director
- Victor S. (Torry) Johnson III, Former District Attorney General of Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County
- Sandra Sepulveda, Metro Councilwoman, District 30
- Zulfat Suara, Metro Councilwoman At-Large
Tony Gonzalez contributed reporting to this story. Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.