At a forum for mayoral candidates Monday night, three of the leading contenders talked about what they would do on the issue of deportation.
It was a pointed question from one of the city's leading immigrant rights organizations, aimed at getting the candidates to commit to taking steps in their first year to combat the federal government’s aggressive approach.
Mayor David Briley addressed the topic directly, advocating for a combination of change at the federal level and policies at the local level.
“We’re supposed to be non-partisan, but I am going to say, the No. 1 priority is to beat Donald Trump,” Briley said.
Priority No. 2 was directed at a specific Metro department.
“Our police are directed not to ask about immigration status,” Briley said, though he went on to concede “that is not exactly what’s happening out there on the street.” He said the city needs to better educate officers on the issue.
Others candidates broadened the question. Candidate and state Rep. John Ray Clemmons said he wanted to hire a law director who would stand up to state and federal laws that try to pre-empt local ones. The state legislature passed a law last year that tries to stop cities and counties from stymieing deportation efforts.
Clemmons went on to add that he also wants to build more trust with immigrant families whose children are in the public school system.
"Unfotunately immigrant fmailies are all too often too afraid to fill out documentation for free and reduced lunches," Clemmons said, "so they are coming to school with a granola bar."
But first, he says, the city should end the contracts with private prisons. CoreCivic, a company frequently criticized by immigration groups because it operates detention centers, has a contract to run the Davidson County jail.
“There is no reason that a private company should be getting paid by our city to profit off of families that call Nashville home,” Clemmons said to big applause.
At-large Councilman John Cooper cited the city’s lack of interpreters in various Metro departments, including 911 operators, as a fundamental problem.
“It’s a basic right for people to be able to communicate with their government,” he said. “And it’s going to require money and investment and paying people for language skills.”
The forum, hosted by the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, was standing room only with more than 500 people in the audience. Carol Swain, a conservative, ex-college professor who last year finished second in the mayor's race, did not attend.
But a darkhorse candidate, Julia Clark-Johnson, was on the stage. She said her “goal would be to change the city to a sanctuary city,” despite the state's efforts to keep Nashville from becoming one.