Vanderbilt Immigration Practice Clinic: In hopes of a more inclusive and immigrant friendly Tennessee

Joseph Levy, JD ’24 shares his experience with the Vanderbilt Immigration Practice Clinic:

This past semester, I, along with my clinic partner Hannah Zhuang, JD ’24, had a chance through the Vanderbilt Immigration Practice Clinic to provide legal counsel with legislative research for the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition, or “TIRRC,” and their sister organization, TIRRC Votes. TIRRC serves the immigrant and refugee community across Tennessee through leadership development, education, legal services, and advocacy. TIRRC provides a base for immigrants and refugees around the state to build community and power, as the immigration system in the United States is very complex. TIRRC was founded in 2003 and has grown exponentially over the past few years. Recently, TIRRC opened a brand-new beautiful headquarters in Antioch, the heart of the immigrant community in Nashville. The building is branded with immigrant and refugee art on the inside and outside walls.

TIRRC Votes is focused on political organizing at the Tennessee legislature through electoral campaigns and policy advocacy. TIRRC Votes has emerged as the leading immigrant-led political organization in Tennessee. This past semester, I have been reviewing various proposed bills from the Tennessee legislature, assessing their legality, and helping propose amendments with TIRRC Votes’ goal of creating a more welcoming and inclusive home for immigrants throughout Tennessee. The VIPC has also been assisting with identifying the practical implications of various bills that do ultimately make it through the legislative session. This includes how the bills would impact Tennessee’s immigrant and refugee communities.

This legislative session, TIRRC has been focused, and successful, in their defensive work. Defensive work entails preventing certain proposed bills from becoming law. TIRRC also works on proactive legislation, making history last year in passing the Workforce Expansion Law, which allows anyone with a federally authorized work permit to access professional and commercial licenses in their desired fields. This turned the licensure process from a barrier to a gateway of opportunity for more than 10,000 immigrants across the state. The hopeful end result is to create and foster a better home for immigrants throughout Tennessee. In future years, TIRRC aims to continue working on both defensive and proactive legislation.

Additionally, TIRRC hosts many community-based events throughout the year. I attended one of their largest events, Day on the Hill. The event took place at the Tennessee State Capitol. It included meeting with legislators from both sides of the aisle. Many TIRRC members had the opportunity to share their story and how proposed legislation would impact them directly. Day on the Hill has routinely been not only a successful policy initiative, but one that provides TIRRC members with the opportunity to meet their state legislator who they may not have access to otherwise.

Overall, TIRRC is an important and vital organization to immigrants and refugees throughout Tennessee. TIRRC strives to serve the Tennessee immigrant community in as many ways as they can. Importantly, their kindness and compassion from their staff makes their office a welcoming environment for everyone across Tennessee. Working as counsel for TIRRC and TIRRC Votes has been an incredibly rewarding experience, and I hope for our paths to cross again in the future.

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