Dean Rebuked For Villegas Comments; Motion to End 287(g) Filed

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Although Nashville is approximately 1,200 miles from the Mexican border, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was within stray-bullet-striking distance of Juarez, given the bevy of local immigration-related goings-on.

Firstly, lawyers from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild are backing local immigration attorney Elliott Ozment in filing a motion to "end the 287(g) immigration agreement between Nashville and federal authorities," according to a press release issued today.

Per the language of the 287(g) agreement, agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement are supposed to work with the city's "primary law enforcement agency," which is defined under Nashville's Metro charter as the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department — except for the fact that MNPD isn't the fed's designated 287(g) point man: The Davidson County Sheriff's Office is. D'oh!

The Scene has already chronicled how well the results of that supra-legal civil rights-trampling agreement are working out. (Hint: Not so much.)

According to NIPNLG attorney Trina Realmuto:

"Nashville’s 287(g) agreement conflicts with decades-old precedent from the Tennessee Supreme Court, in which the court rejected a similar attempt by the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office to usurp the enforcement functions belonging to the Nashville Police Department. Through this lawsuit, we are asking the district court to enforce both state and federal law by striking down the 287(g) agreement."

Secondly, Mayor Karl Dean is facing criticism from a prominent supporter over comments he made regarding the damages trial for Juana Villegas, the Mexican immigrant who went into labor while shackled under DCSO's authority following a minor traffic offense in July 2008.

In an email intended for Dean's eyes only, Bass, Berry & Sims attorney and Conexion Americas board president David Esquivel lambasted the mayor because "[he] has a history of standing up for the immigrant community.

"I e-mailed him because I think his comments on the Villegas case are out of step with his past words and actions," Esquivel wrote in an email to the Scene. "And I think he is a person of good conscience who wants to do the right thing."

Esquivel's letter is as follows:

Mayor Dean,

Since this incident first happened, I have followed it with interest. So far as I can tell, these have been your only publicly reported comments on the matter:

“We are able to identify and report individuals who are here illegally and have been charged with a criminal offense, while at the same time remaining a friendly and open city to our new legal residents,” Karl Dean, the mayor of Nashville, said in a statement on Friday. (New York Times, 7/20/08)

“This case as it has been portrayed does not represent what Nashville is about,” said Mayor Karl Dean. “The sheriff’s office has already changed its policy regarding pregnant inmates. … They are never restrained unless they are likely to harm themselves or others. That was the right thing to do.” (Tennessean, 8/19/11)

As a child of immigrants, someone who has worked strenuously for human rights, a resident of Davidson County, and a supporter of your campaigns, I am deeply disappointed with your lack of compassion and leadership in this case. This case "as it has been portrayed?" You insinuate that Juana and her advocates have taken some benign set of circumstances and unfairly portrayed them in a negative light. These facts don't need any "portrayal" to make them horrific and offensive. They do that quite well on their own.

Nashville "remain[s] a friendly and open city to our new legal residents." Coming only 2 weeks after Juana gave birth to her son, Gael, I think it is fair to paraphrase this comment as follows: Nashville is a welcoming city for legal residents, but it is open season on undocumented residents, up to and including putting you in shackles and chaining you to your bed during labor, and refusing to let you call your husband so that he can be with you during the birth of your child.

I understand that this is a litigated matter and that you are not able to speak completely openly in public. But as a trial lawyer, I feel comfortable saying that the following comment would not prejudice Metro's legal position: "What happened to Juana Villegas should never happen to anyone again, whether they are documented or undocumented. Fundamental human decency does not depend on citizenship status."

Conexion Amercias is currently engaged in a public promotion to "change the conversation" about immigrants in Nashville. I hope you will take that to heart and considering saying something — anything — that expresses sympathy and common decency to a woman who deserves an apology from Metro government. We need your leadership to help change the conversation. So far, at least in your public comments, I believe you have only added fuel to the fire of intolerance in our city.

Regards,

David Esquivel

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