UnidosUS letter to Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee on SB 2332

Dear Governor Haslam:

On behalf of UnidosUS (formerly the National Council of La Raza), the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization, I urge you to veto SB 2332. UnidosUS strongly condemns the Tennessee Legislature’s decision to pass this deeply troubling piece of legislation that jeopardizes the civil liberties of hundreds of thousands of Latinos and others in Tennessee, and that recklessly undermines public safety in the state.

If enacted, we fear this law would only serve to frighten and defame thousands of hard-working members of Tennessee’s communities. Many of the same anti-immigrant undercurrents are in SB 2332 as we saw after Arizona passed SB 1070 in 2010, which in our view essentially sought to codify and legitimize racial profiling. Our community has lived and felt the pain of laws that gave rogue officials—like Joe Arpaio—the power and authority to make official policies that harass and abuse people based on the color of their skin. Those policies also created vast tension and divisiveness, pitting entire communities against one another in the name of “law and order.” Governor, you have the power to stop that in its tracks by vetoing this bill.

In just the past year our community has witnessed the despicable acts in Charlottesville proceed with seeming impunity, President Trump pardon Arpaio’s criminal conviction validating the pain and suffering he caused Latinos in Arizona, and emboldened states like Texas and Iowa advance copycat Arizona-style bills in recent months. Unfortunately, some in the Tennessee Legislature have also added to our concerns. Representative Jay Reedy, the state lawmaker behind SB 2332 flippantly used one of the most highly offensive ethnic slurs disparaging Latinos during floor debate on the bill. SB 2332 did not just appear out of thin air—there are nefarious underpinnings which you must not validate by enacting it into law.

Ironically, at a time when Tennessee has no self-proclaimed “sanctuary city,” this “anti-sanctuary city” bill would require a costly and unnecessary entanglement with federal immigration authorities. By obligating local law enforcement to enter into memoranda of understandings with federal immigration authorities and prohibiting local policies that limit often onerous and expensive entanglement with federal immigration enforcement, SB 2332 could make localities complicit in violating important constitutional safeguards that apply to everyone living in our great country regardless of their citizenship status or national origin. Some may be content with the political theatrics, but for Latinos the costs of ostracizing and vilifying an entire community are real and significant.

One does not have to look far to see the cost of entangling local law enforcement with federal immigration authorities. It was under the same type of memoranda of understandings that SB 2332 would require, that the City of Nashville came under severe public criticism and legal challenge for the 2008 shackling of pregnant immigrant Juana Villegas while in labor after she was arrested on a careless driving charge that was later dismissed. The ensuing litigation not only confirmed the wrongdoing, but also resulted in the locality reaching a monetary settlement approaching half a million dollars. In 2012, the Davidson County Sheriff stopped participating in memoranda of understandings with reportedly no interest in renewing participation now.

Time and time again we have seen prominent local law enforcement officials come out forcefully against these heavy-handed measures. Last year in Texas, sheriffs penned a compelling opinion piece noting that measure like SB 2332 force local law enforcement to dedicate often scarce resources, such as jail space, on-duty officers and local tax dollars, to a job that is supposed to be carried out and paid for by the federal government. We have unfortunately learned from other anti-immigrant laws and policies attempted elsewhere that these measures only serve to drive crime victims and witnesses in Latino and immigrant communities further into the shadows.  When that happens trust breaks down, impacted communities report fewer crimes, and law enforcement’s job to keep us all safety gets a lot harder.

Governor, we urge you to veto this unnecessary and reckless measure, SB 2332, which stands to disproportionately impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of your Tennessee constituents.


Janet Murguía

President and CEO

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