We believe Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam missed an important opportunity Monday by not signing a "sanctuary cities" bill and letting the measure become law without his signature.
By signing it, he could have acknowledged what most Tennesseans believe — that no city in the state should shield illegal immigrants from authority by means the city takes on its own.
While the state has no current problem in this area and while illegal immigrants not in trouble with the law beyond their illegal status have little to worry about in the state, Haslam's signature would have acknowledged what many have seen occur across the country — cities harboring illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes.
Indeed, only Monday, in an acknowledgement to the issue, a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, would make it a possibility for sanctuary city leaders to receive jail time if they tip off illegal immigrants of a looming immigration sweep.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf did just that earlier this year, helping hundreds of people escape detection. The bill, thus, has been dubbed the Mayor Libby Schaaf Act. Its potential penalties would include a sentence of up to five years in prison for any state or local official who impinges on the enforcement of federal law.
King said the bill would remove all doubt whether current law says the Oakland mayor's action was criminal.
Haslam said one of the reasons he chose not to sign the bill was that he didn't believe Tennessee had an "issue" with sanctuary cities, which are banned in the state. Yet laws against such cities across the country have not stopped the cities from flouting the laws in order to protect illegal immigrants.
Critics of the state bill say it mandates local law enforcement to hold illegal immigrants at the behest of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) without requiring warrants or probable cause, but a deputy legal counsel to the governor says it does no such thing.
ICE policy, according to Todd Skelton, requires warrants or detainers for local law enforcement to hold individuals suspected of being in the country illegally.
Although he chose not to sign the bill, Haslam said a number of constitutional concerns surrounding it had been resolved to his satisfaction and that critics were wrong that it amounted to a "mass deportation" bill.
Nevertheless, since the governor knows ICE is not about to sweep into the state and round up law-abiding illegal immigrants, we think it would have sent a message to state residents both that the state hears what its citizens say and that it takes the issue of illegal immigration seriously.