TIRRC Votes Roundtable with Presidential Candidate Beto O'Rourke

Migration, demographic change, and the fundamental question of who gets to be an American are defining our politics.

Immigration is a central part of the national debate and must be a priority for the next president of the United States.  As candidates develop their platforms and vision for our nation’s immigration systems, it is critical to understand the experience of immigrant families in America’s new destination states.

That’s why TIRRC Votes held a roundtable with Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke today while he was campaigning in Nashville. 


To demonstrate the urgency of our policy priorities for the next administration, we facilitated a discussion with nine of our community members from Tennessee.

Enforcement in the Interior

O’Rourke first heard from two of the workers who were detained last April in the first massive worksite raid of the Trump administration. Martha and Alberto discussed the militaristic raid where 97 community members from the Morristown area were arrested. They shared their experiences being held in a private, for-profit detention center, of the trauma they and their families experienced, and the lasting damage of a worksite raid. 

Dulce, a DACA recipient from Nashville, shared how employers will use the threat of deportation to exploit workers and shared how her father has been the victim of wage theft.

TIRRC Votes urged candidate O’Rourke to end worksite enforcement, to end the use of private, for-profit immigration detention, and to expand worker protections for immigrants, including those outlined in the POWER Act. 

End Collaboration between Local Governments & ICE and Extend Protections for Undocumented Immigrants

O’Rourke also heard from Veronica, an undocumented mother who came to the United States fleeing violence more than a decade ago. Citing the state’s new anti-sanctuary city law and local 287(g) agreements that deputize local law enforcement to act as ICE agents, Veronica shared her personal experience and that of her community facing compounding threats from increased enforcement from the federal government and state and local governments that are signing up to join Trump’s deportation force. She asked the candidate to pledge to end 287(g) agreements and all entanglement between local governments and federal immigration enforcement. 

Jazmin, a DACA recipient, shared how her parents live under the threat of deportation, and the uncertainty facing her own immigration status. She asked the candidate to swiftly renew protections for DACA and TPS recipients, two programs terminated under the Trump administration, and to advocate for permanent protections. She expressed her worry that politicians have been quick to trade the safety and futures of DACA recipients like her at the expense of the safety of her parents and other undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers, and others. She asked the candidate to reject enforcement-first immigration policy and to find a way to help immigrants without hurting other immigrants. 

Repealing Section 1325 & 1326 of the Immigration & Nationality Act

TIRRC Votes staff also pushed O’Rourke to reconsider his position on the repeal of section 1325 and 1326 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, an issue that has become more prominent in the Democratic primary. TIRRC Votes argued that it was failed, ineffective, and immoral policy at the national level. They also cited the impact of the provisions far from the Southern border, including how workers arrested in the Morristown raid were detained for several months on the criminal charges of Section 1326 before being turned over for their civil immigration proceedings. TIRRC Votes also talked about how the next president needs to be bold and clear in challenging the rhetoric and reality of the criminalization of immigrant communities. Beyond the way the policy is wielded against immigrants and their families, the premise and rhetoric that undocumented immigrants are criminals has been the driving force behind some of the country’s worst anti-immigrant state laws, like those in Tennessee that imply the arrival of immigrants to a state like Tennessee is a public safety threat and must be met with a criminal justice solution.

Rebuilding Refugee Resettlement & Strengthening Systems of Protection

Time was also dedicated during the round table to discuss the importance of the next administration in rebuilding and expanding systems of protection, including asylum and refugee resettlement. TIRRC Votes staff reviewed how the refugee resettlement program in Tennessee has been decimated by the Trump administration, including the closure of World Relief Nashville, one of only three local resettlement agencies who had been providing services for more than 30 years. Layla, a former refugee from Somalia, shared how the refugee resettlement program saved her life, but how her family members are still stuck in the pipeline, further delayed by the gutting of the refugee resettlement program and the ban on all travelers from Somalia and other Muslim-majority countries. Layla and TIRRC Votes staff asked Beto to commit to increasing the number of refugees the United States will accept annually, and to invest in rebuilding the infrastructure necessary to welcome and support refugees in local communities.

Repealing the Muslim Ban and Combating White Nationalism & Islamophobia

O’Rourke also heard from Bnyad, whose Iraqi-Kurdish family was among the first to be turned away when Trump implemented the first Muslim Ban. Bnyad shared his family’s experience and asked the candidate to commit to both immediately repeal the Muslim Ban and work to mitigate the damage and family separation caused by the bans. 

TIRRC Votes also discussed how the politics of fear that fueled Trump’s rise and allowed for the implementation of the Muslim Ban have long found fertile ground in Tennessee and will outlast the Trump presidency. Sabina shared the experiences of Muslim-Americans in Tennessee and asked O’Rourke to commit to developing a robust strategy to counter the rise of white nationalism and Islamophobia in the United States. TIRRC Votes staff reminded O’Rourke that outside of policy changes that will be required of the next administration, the president has a role in helping the country transition into a more multicultural democracy.

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The politics of hate and fear that have become central to the Trump presidency and campaigns have long found fertile ground in states like Tennessee where communities are processing rapid demographic shifts.

 In many ways, states like Tennessee have been a microcosm and a testing ground for many of the policies and much of the rhetoric that now dominate the national headlines. 

But immigrants and refugees are helping shape the future of the New South. As the presidential candidates increasingly campaign in Tennessee, and as they shape their platforms and vision for migration and multiculturalism in this country, it’s critical for them to engage and learn from the experience of immigrants and refugees living here.

Read more about the roundtable in the Tennessean.

Watch a live stream of the roundtable on Beto O’Rourke’s Facebook Page.

We launched TIRRC Votes last year so that immigrant families in Tennessee could help shape the future of our cities, our state, and our country. 

We had a major impact on the 2018 elections, are helping to elect pro-immigrant candidates in our local elections, and now, we’re helping shape the national debate.

Together, we can build a powerful organization that can turn the tide in Tennessee and across the country. Join us and become a member of TIRRC Votes today.

Rebecca Hall