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We the People: TN Hosts Immigration Conference

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This weekend, hundreds will gather for the National Immigrant Integration Conference, marking the first time the event has been held in the Southeast. (NIIC)
This weekend, hundreds will gather for the National Immigrant Integration Conference, marking the first time the event has been held in the Southeast. (NIIC)
December 8, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – This weekend, hundreds of policymakers and advocacy groups will converge in Nashville to discuss ways to better integrate immigrants into communities in Tennessee and the rest of the country.

The National Immigrant Integration Conference is in its sixth year, but this is the first time the event has been held in the Southeast. Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, policy manager at the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, said that with the talk of a Muslim registry and communities like Mount Juliet passing resolutions unfriendly to immigrant rights, it was important to host the event in the South.

"One of our big concerns is the threat that this is to our Muslim immigrant communities,” Sherman-Nikolaus said," but I think the wider receiving communities should also be concerned about the message that this sends for religious freedom in America as well as for repeating past mistakes."

According to the 2015 American Community Survey, more than 90,000 foreign-born individuals are living in Nashville - more than double the number from 15 years ago. A New American Economy report estimates that foreign-born people in Tennessee earn almost $8 billion annually and pay almost $500 million in taxes.

The city of Mount Juliet recently approved a proclamation saying the city did not want those who entered the country illegally living within its boundaries. Sherman-Nikolaus said that while drawing a hard line may sound appealing to some, it's important to understand the potential fallout from such a measure.

"It means that immigrant families will be less likely to call the police if they're victims of a crime, or if they witness a crime,” she said. "It also means that they're more hesitant about sending their kids to school, and this is to the detriment of not only those immigrant families but of the communities in which they live."

Other cities around the country, including San Francisco and Seattle, are vowing to defy any restrictive change in immigration policy that the Trump administration may put in place, by declaring themselves sanctuary cities.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN