City lawyer: Nashville sanctuary city-like bid unenforceable

June 27, 2017 GMT

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nashville can’t force its sheriff to comply with a proposed ban on volunteering city resources to support federal immigration enforcement, the city’s lead attorney said Tuesday.

The proposal already faces a backlash from Republican state leaders and gubernatorial candidates. Now, given, the legal opinion Mayor Megan Barry is urging the city council to reconsider before a final council vote on July 8.

Metro Nashville Director of Law Jon Cooper said the council can’t prohibit the sheriff, who was constitutionally elected to run the jails, from cooperating with federal authorities on immigration.


“If federal officials present the sheriff with lawfully committed persons for detention, he is authorized to receive and control their custody until they are discharged,” the opinion states. “The council cannot by ordinance alter this duty that is established by state law and the charter.”

The mayor said Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall plans to continue honoring requests to keep detaining people until they can be picked up by federal authorities for immigration proceedings. Hall praised the opinion Tuesday, saying it validates his concerns that the proposal is overreaching.

Supporters of sanctuary city ordinances around the nation worry that non-citizens will be too afraid of deportation to support the criminal justice system. But the mayor said Metro Nashville Police are concerned the proposal could jeopardize their ability to recommend special visas for immigrants who are crime victims and who can help law enforcement investigate or prosecute the crime.

“The Metro Council should give serious consideration to these factors and reconsider whether this legislation is appropriate or necessary at this time,” Barry said in a statement.

Councilman Bob Mendes, who sponsored the proposal, said it wouldn’t qualify Nashville as a sanctuary city under the U.S. Department of Justice, and works within the confines of state and federal law. He told The Tennessean that the council still has time to decide what to do.

“I’m pretty sure that I don’t agree with the conclusion, but there’s a lot to that, so I’m going to need more than a day to work through it,” Mendes told the newspaper.

The proposed ordinance says that, unless federal or state law or court order requires it, the city couldn’t use its resources to help enforce federal immigration laws, respond to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests or review someone’s citizenship. It says Nashville will only honor immigration-related detention requests under court-approved warrants.


State House Speaker Beth Harwell, a Nashville Republican and possible candidate for governor, and Sen. Jim Tracy, a Shelbyville Republican, have asked the Tennessee attorney general for his opinion.

“The sheriff is a state constitutional officer, and his duties are prescribed by the General Assembly,” Harwell said in a statement Tuesday. “Our local, state, and federal law enforcement officials must be able to work together to keep our children, families, and communities safe, and I will make sure they have the power to do that.”

Several other potential Republican candidates in the 2018 governor’s race have said cities should be punished if they don’t cooperate with federal immigration officials. They call the city legislation a “sanctuary city” bill.