City lawyer: Nashville sanctuary city-like bid unenforceable

(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP/WKRN) – Nashville’s attorney says a proposal to adopt “sanctuary city”-like standards is unenforceable.

Metro Nashville Director of Law Jon Cooper’s opinion Tuesday says the city council can’t prohibit the constitutionally elected sheriff who runs jails from cooperating with federal authorities on immigration.

As a result, Mayor Megan Barry said the council should reconsider if the proposal is appropriate or necessary now. She said in a statement:

It is clear from this legal opinion that BL2017-739 does not apply to Sheriff Daron Hall, who has said he will continue to honor detainer requests from the federal government. Additionally, the Metro Nashville Police Department has concerns that the ordinance would prohibit them from recommending U visa applications for immigrants who are victims of crime and willing to help put dangerous criminals in jail. Losing that law enforcement tool could jeopardize public safety and would run counter to the intentions of the sponsors to make Nashville a more welcoming city for New Americans. The Metro Council should give serious consideration to these factors and reconsider whether this legislation is appropriate or necessary at this time.

Sheriff Hall also said he joins the mayor in asking the council to reconsider. He released a statement Tuesday that says:

Three weeks ago, I asked Metro’s Director of Law, Jon Cooper, for a formal legal opinion regarding ordinance BL739. It was my concern this bill, which would have prohibited the sheriff’s office from cooperating with federal immigration authorities, was overreaching. I am pleased with this legal opinion as it validates my concerns that a local legislative body cannot limit the core duties of a state constitutional office as defined in state law. Additionally, I join Mayor Megan Barry in asking the council to reconsider passage of this legislation.

House Speaker Beth Harwell also spoke on the ordinance Tuesday, saying she “strongly concurs” with Cooper, saying the sheriff’s powers cannot be restricted by the Metro Council.

Harwell continued, “The sheriff is a state constitutional officer, and his duties are prescribed by the General Assembly. 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.”

Unless required under federal or state law or court order, the proposal says Nashville 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 warrants.

Also Tuesday, six state senators signed a letter calling on the Metro Council to deny the immigration ordinance. Click here to read the letter in full.

A final council vote is slated for July 8.