Several dozen protesters criticized local cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in North Nashville Monday morning. Immigrants, Jews and allies gathered down the street from an ICE field office with picket signs and prayer books for a music-filled rally.
The protest was organized by the Nashville chapter of Never Again Action, a Jewish social justice group. Dozens of cities across the country have staged similar demonstrations in recent weeks to oppose conditions at the border and threats of mass immigration raids.
The protest in Nashville comes amid questions about local police's presence during a failed attempt by ICE to arrest a Hermitage man last month.
Latinx college student Nico Gardner also called on the Davidson County Sheriff's Office to sever all ties with ICE, including the practice of holding detainees for the agency.
"As long as the county honors this agreement with ICE, you are participating in a system that disregards the humanity of black, brown, queer and trans migrants," Gardner said to the crowd, first in Spanish and then in English. "It is time to actually protect marginalized immigrant communities. We demand that you cancel the contract."
Davidson County's involvement with federal immigration enforcement has wavered over the years. In the past, the sheriff's office rented out beds to ICE detainees passing through Nashville overnight for a reimbursement fee of about $60 per night. But Sheriff Daron Hall told WPLN in July that his department had halted that practice about a month prior, when President Trump announced plans for nationwide immigration raids.
Now, Hall says, the sheriff's office holds immigrants only when they are arrested on local warrants and a federal database finds they have an outstanding immigration detainer.
But local immigrants' rights groups have started to question local law enforcement's relationship with ICE after federal agents tried to detain a man in Hermitage last month without a judicial warrant. Metro police officers were on the scene during the four-hour standoff, though a spokeswoman says they were there to keep order.
Neither agency ultimately arrested the man.
Afterward, the organization Movements Including X asked the newly formed Community Oversight Board to consider investigating the police department's protocol when interacting with ICE at public forum earlier this month.
As protesters fanned themselves in the hot August sun, Metro Councilman Fabian Bedne said the incident in Hermitage "freaked him out," as an immigrant who grew up in Argentina during a dictatorship.
"I came to this country looking for freedom and safety," he said. "And to see that happen in Nashville, it totally scares me. It puts a target on any immigrant."
Gardner, however, was feeling optimistic at the rally. He said he was honored to stand with such a diverse group of people, coming together for common a cause.
"Liberation, by definition, is intersectional and must contain a multitude of voices and experiences," he said. "Until all of us are free, none of us are free."
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.