CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (CN) – The anti-sanctuary city law that went into effect in Tennessee Jan. 1 has left one man’s friends and family in fear in their hometown.
The 20-year-old man spends his time at home in Chattanooga studying subjects like English and relaxes by listening to Ed Sheeran and The Weeknd because progressive ossifying fibrodysplasia, a rare disease that converts the body’s soft tissue into bone, limits his mobility. Although he is a U.S. citizen, he relies on his mother, who is in the country from Mexico without legal permission, for care.
Due to the immigration status of his mother, Courthouse News is keeping the man anonymous.
The Tennessee law is designed to curtail any sanctuary policies in its cities, such as those that would prevent police officers from asking about a person’s immigration status or require the Department of Homeland Security to demonstrate probable cause when asking local law enforcement to hold an immigrant suspected of breaking immigration law.
“I think it's not a good idea. Because they hurt many people. And there are people like me,” the man wrote in Spanish in an email to Courthouse News.
He has spent two years trying to obtain residency for his mother, whom he relies on to sit up, to walk, and to sit down.
The Tennessee legislature passed HB 2315 on April 25. A month later, then-Governor Bill Haslam allowed the bill to become law without his signature.
In a May 21 letter, Haslam called the bill “a solution looking for a problem [that] has primarily served to stir up fear on both sides of the issue.” He noted that the state already prohibits sanctuary cities.
According to HB 2315, if a chancery court finds a city has a sanctuary-like policy – formally or informally – the city won’t receive grants from the Department of Economic and Community Development until it strikes the policy.
“Allowing illegal immigrants to reside within this state undermines federal immigration laws and state laws allocating available resources,” Tennessee’s law states.
On New Year’s Eve, the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition called the law that was hours away from going into effect “one of the most extreme, anti-immigrant laws in the country.”
Incoming Governor Bill Lee told the Associated Press before his inauguration that he directed his legal team to investigate Shelby County – the county in which Memphis sits – for possibly breaking the law because he said it wasn’t complying with ICE’s requests for detainers.
Meanwhile in Chattanooga, individuals who work with immigrant communities describe a devolution from a welcoming city to one where families are preparing for the worst.
According to Vivian Lozano Sterchi, outreach coordinator of La Paz, a Latino community organization in the Chattanooga area, 71 percent of 450 Latinos surveyed said they felt welcome there in 2015.
Lozano added that Chattanooga boasts a diverse Latino population from many Central and South American countries, including first-generation immigrants, families who lived among the state’s mountains for generations, and professionals who work in the city’s major corporations. A large indigenous Guatemalan population calls Chattanooga home, too.
“I think families are just having more conversations about what they need to do if something happens,” Lozano said, “conversations that I don't think they were having with their family or their children before. … So having really tough conversations about what they needed to do if a parent was detained or if both parents were detained and deported.”
Last year, La Paz held four clinics that helped 150 families obtain power of attorneys and passports for family members.
La Paz also reached out to the Chattanooga Police Department for clarification on how the law would change policing in the city.