Mayor David Briley signed an executive order Tuesday morning that discourages local cooperation with federal immigration agencies. The policy comes amid growing scrutiny of Metro's relationship with immigration officials.
But the directive is largely symbolic, at least for now.
The order comes just days after Nashville's vice mayor and dozens of council members asked to investigate reports of coordination between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Metro's probation department. Immigrant rights' advocates have also raised questions about a recent ICE stakeout in Hermitage where local police were present. (A police spokeswoman has said officers were there only to keep the peace).
Mayor Briley says he doesn't want any Metro agencies to assist with federal immigration enforcement, because it erodes trust.
"We're not a strong city or a strong nation when thousands of our residents are afraid to leave their homes for fear of being arbitrarily separated from their families," Briley said at a press conference Tuesday. "We're not a strong Nashville when Nashvillians can't feel free to participate in the systems that are in place to protect us all and keep everyone safe."
But a Tennessee law passed last year (HB2315/SB2322) prohibits cities from enacting so-called "sanctuary policies" that protect undocumented immigrants.
Briley's executive order calls on Davidson County's delegation in the state assembly to work to repeal that measure. It also asks Metro's legal counsel to investigate the law's constitutionality.
In the meantime, though, the mayor says he won't wait for state law to change before he takes action.
Metro agencies will now be required to report each time they're asked to help with federal immigration operations, and police officers have been directed not to ask about people's country of origin. The mayor is also assembling a working group to study the impact of city policies on immigrants.
The Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition applauded the mayor's executive order, but said it didn't go far enough to protect immigrants in Nashville.
"In this historic moment, the city must use every tool we have to protect immigrant families," Stephanie Teatro, TIRRC's co-executive director, said in a statement. "We hope this executive order is the first in a more robust set of policies from the mayor and Metro Council that protect immigrant families and draw a bright line between the work of the city and federal immigration enforcement."
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.