Nashville neighbors form human chain to rescue father and son from ICE
Neighbors form a human chain around a van in the driveway of a Nashville home to protect a father and son from ICE. | Video screenshot from Nashville Noticias

NASHVILLE—ICE vehicles sat behind a van in the Hermitage neighborhood of the city. The van was parked in the driveway of a modest home lived in for 14 years by a well-liked neighbor and his wife and 12-year old son. But on the morning of July 22, the neighbor, as yet unnamed, were under siege by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It was the intent of the ICE agents to take the neighbor and his child into custody. They had followed the van as it had pulled into the driveway.

But ICE had not counted on the militant opposition of the family’s Nashville neighbors, African-American and white. Father and son stayed in the van. As it was a hot morning, the father had to keep the van running to have A/C, and people alerted to the situation bought water, gas, cold rags, and sandwiches. This went on for four hours.

At some point in the siege, the neighbors formed a human chain around the father and his son, shielding them from ICE, allowing them to enter their home and subsequently to exit the house, make it to another car and get away from ICE. The immigration agents left empty-handed that day.

Reportedly, ICE officers had an administrative warrant and were attempting to serve a detainer on the father. Immigrant advocates argued that ICE warrants aren’t the same as warrants other law enforcement agencies have approved by courtroom judges, thus ICE agents don’t have authority to conduct searches of homes or vehicles with consent.

In this case, the ICE officers had an administrative warrant. This type does allow ICE to detain a subject, but it doesn’t allow ICE to forcibly remove a person from their home or vehicle.

Metro Police was called to the scene by ICE, but they were not attempting to assist in the arrest; they were present, according to a spokesperson, “to keep the peace if necessary.” This is, of course, a somewhat ambiguous statement.

Under Tennessee law, local governments are prohibited from declaring themselves sanctuary cities, but Nashville has a policy that bars police officers from assisting in ICE operations unless they have a warrant stating that a crime has been committed. As immigration enforcement is considered a civil matter, this is beyond police jurisdiction.

Nashville Mayor David Briley released a statement that local government would not take part in any ICE raids.

“Our police officers do not actively participate in immigration enforcement and only serve as peacekeepers. The officers were at the incident today to keep neighbors safe and secure a perimeter.”

Again, there is some ambiguity in this position, but it does provide a point of departure for positive clarification.

All things considered, this was a victory for the people, notwithstanding the fact that this harried family has now had its entire life disrupted. On the positive side, ICE was stopped, the family is not incarcerated, and this episode can be taken as inspiration to others confronted by this storm trooper outfit and lets it be known it can be defeated. The neighborhood that stood up has been described by those familiar with it as a community of “everyday working folk”—the working class in action.


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.