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Void and “Absurd”

GOP challenges Shelby County’s take on new immigration law.

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Shelby County officials said last week that a new state immigration law that went into effect on January 1st doesn't apply here, invoking a disapproving response from some Tennessee GOP leaders.

The law prohibits local government entities from adopting sanctuary policies that interfere with the enforcement of federal immigration laws. This means local law enforcement agencies aren't required to have a warrant or probable cause to comply with federal immigration detainers.

A Tennessee immigration rally. - TENNESSEE IMMIGRATION AND REFUGEE RIGHTS COALITION
  • Tennessee Immigration and Refugee Rights Coalition
  • A Tennessee immigration rally.

It also stipulates that governments that don't abide by the law will be ineligible for grants from the department of economic and community development until the sanctuary policy is repealed.

However, the Shelby County Sheriff's Office (SCSO) said that, on the advice of the county attorney, Marlinee Clark Iverson, the law won't apply in Shelby County.

"The Shelby County attorney has advised the Sheriff's Office that the new Tennessee laws governing sanctuary cities/policies do not apply to Shelby County or the Shelby County Sheriff's Office," SCSO said in a statement. "Therefore, the Sheriff's Office will not detain anyone being released from the jail unless there is a warrant or probable cause to do so. The Sheriff's Office will continue to honor ICE requests for notifications."

In her legal opinion, county attorney Iverson said the law's ambiguity makes it void and "unenforceable." She also adds that it could violate constitutional rights: "The language in the statute is unclear to the extent that it can be interpreted as requiring absurd and/or potentially unconstitutional conduct by any law enforcement agency."

The notion that Shelby County is exempt from the law and that detaining individuals without probable cause or a warrant would be in violation of the Fourth Amendment is being challenged by House Speaker Glen Casada and Tennessee Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally.

McNally said that the new law is meant to prevent cities from "selective enforcement of immigration laws."

"Cities, counties, and states cannot continue to pass the buck," McNally said. "All government entities must cooperate in order to secure our borders and maintain the rule of law. Shelby County needs to reevaluate their position. As outlined in the law, continued refusal will result in the forfeit of state economic and community development grants which would negatively affect the local economy in Shelby County."

Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, policy director at the Tennessee Immigration and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC), who has called the law "one of the most extreme, anti-immigration laws in the country," said that the group warned legislators that the measure puts local governments in "impossible positions."

"Tennessee's new 'anti-sanctuary city' law forces local governments to choose: violate the U.S. Constitution or violate the new state law," Sherman-Nikolaus said. "If the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House are going to threaten Shelby County, the state should have to foot the bill when counties are inevitably sued for violating their residents' fourth amendment rights."

Sherman-Nikolaus adds that TIRRC applauds Shelby County for defending all residents' constitutional rights.

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