Nashville immigrant and refugee community celebrates “huge victory” over ICE
Scene from the celebration at Nashville's Plaza Mariachi. | Melanie Bender / PW

NASHVILLE—On Friday, Nov. 1, the immigrant and refugee community here celebrated a decision by the Davidson County Sheriff’s Department to terminate its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Sheriff’s Department will no longer house ICE detainees at its detention center in Nashville. The termination of the policy with ICE was hailed by community advocates as a “huge victory.”

The celebration was held at the Plaza Mariachi, an indoor Latinx mall of restaurants, gift shops, and clothing store. It was sponsored by the Nashville-based Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. The event came complete with a stage for community leaders and Latin American cultural performances, including dance groups, singers, and bands.

Scene from the celebration at Nashville’s Plaza Mariachi. | Melanie Bender / PW

The decision being celebrated was first announced on Tuesday, Oct. 29, by Sheriff Darron Hall. He opted to cancel the ICE agreement was made after met with community advocacy organizations, newly-elected Mayor John Cooper, and Metro Council members. The termination will become effective on Dec. 1, 2019.

“The continued confusion and hyper-political nature of this issue has become a distraction from sheriff’s office priorities,” said Hall. He continued, “The number of individuals detained as a result of this contract is less than 1% of overall jail bookings. However, I spend an inordinate amount of my time debating its validity.”

To put it another way, political pressure pays off. Community actions and advocacy, over several years of struggle, brought a change in policy. Community advocates described the policy change as a “big step in the right direction.”

The weekend celebration coincided with Day of the Dead events observed by immigrant communities throughout Nashville. The celebration combined Day of the Dead observances with elation at the sheriff’s decision.

“We have been fighting for years and this is the result of years of activism. This took the efforts of so many people,” said Judith Clerjeune, policy officer for TIRRC.

On stage in the middle of the plaza, speaker after speaker praised the decision. Mention was also made of the newly-elected Metro Council members who participated in the meeting with Hall, which included Latinx representatives and the first African immigrant councilwoman, who is also the first Muslim council member. The new council has been called the most progressive body in the history of the city.

Scene from the celebration at Nashville’s Plaza Mariachi. | Melanie Bender / PW

Indicative how far things have come in Nashville is the case of Juana Villegas, which was mentioned at the event. Villegas is an undocumented  Mexican immigrant who was shackled to a hospital bed and gave birth in Davidson County custody in July 2008 after being arrested during a traffic stop in a Nashville suburb. Her case infamously put the national spotlight on Davidson County Sheriff Darron Hall’s enforcement of a federal deportation law that is now no longer enforced in the county.

This case wound its way through the Tennessee court system with Villegas eventually winning before a federal judge and being awarded a $490,000 settlement by Metro Council. The court ruled that jail officers had exhibited “deliberate interference” by cuffing her ankle to a hospital bed throughout most of her labor and recovery.

Joining the migrant community celebrants at Plaza Mariachi were local Native American activists, Indigenous persons from Latin America, African Americans, and whites—amply indicating that in unity and diversity there is strength.

The sheriff’s decision followed a multitude of demonstrations, community advocacy actions, and politicking with local officials over the years.


Albert Bender
Albert Bender

Albert Bender is a Cherokee activist, historian, political columnist, and freelance reporter for Native and Non-Native publications. He is currently writing a legal treatise on Native American sovereignty and working on a book on the war crimes committed by the U.S. against the Maya people in the Guatemalan civil war He is a consulting attorney on Indigenous sovereignty, land restoration, and Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) issues and a former staff attorney with Legal Services of Eastern Oklahoma (LSEO) in Muskogee, Okla.