Grassroots group fights to defend Tennessee immigrants, fears for safety in current climate

Special Reports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – In the shadow of a hazy skyline, colored with art, character, and culture, runs the international corridor of Nashville, along Nolensville Pike. 

At the heart of this community, locally-owned stores and restaurants, and one of the fastest-growing immigrant populations in the country supporting them. 

“They risk everything to try and find safety and opportunity for their children.” 

Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus is the policy director of TIRRC, the Tennessee Immigration and Refugee Rights Coalition. 

“Immigrants own a lot of businesses in this area,” says Sherman-Nikolaus. “They have communities that are growing and thriving.”  

TIRRC is at the center of this part of the city, helping immigrants at a time, Sherman-Nikolaus says, federal immigration enforcement is ramping up.  

“What is the city going to do in the face of mass deportation, in the face of families being ripped apart?” she says.  

TIRRC is grassroots. It’s fought for undocumented people for 16 years. Members offer education for immigrants on their rights, doing it recently they argue, in a climate of fear, threats, and uncertainty. 

“Immigration enforcement, the fear, the isolation, and the marginalization, that comes as a result of that,” says Sherman-Nikolaus. “It’s sort of the tip of the spear, in terms of all of the challenges that immigrant and refugee communities face.”  

In July, in Hermitage, two Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers tried to arrest a man they called a “convicted criminal alien ice fugitive.” But neighbors and members of TIRRC formed a human chain around the man’s van to protect him.  

“When things like that happen the whole community gets incredibly scared, rumors spread like wildfire,” says Sherman-Nikolaus. “ICE agents left. At the end of the day they didn’t have a criminal warrant, they couldn’t enter the vehicle without a warrant signed by a judge.” 

In another incident with ICE, in September, an agent shot a man driving a truck in a parking lot, in Antioch. The man had prior convictions, but according to TIRRC, by law, was allowed to drive away. The man was later arrested, investigators say he had been deported four times, most recently in 2013 after pleading guilty to domestic violence. 

Sherman-Nikolaus will tell you they vigorously defend the rights of Hispanic or Kurdish people, both with large local populations. But it goes deeper than that. 

“Regardless of where we’re from or how we got here, we all have the same values or want the same thing,” she argues. 

Like education, health care, and public safety, Sherman-Nikolaus believes because immigrants are being targeted, they’re losing out. 

“We have to get it right, we have to make sure parents and their families are able to fully access all the services we have to offer.”  

Until then TIRRC will keep organizing, gathering and marching. 

For additional information on TIRRC and its services, call the organization’s help hotline at 615-414-1030

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