Welcoming our neighbors in Nashville

When President Obama took the microphone at Casa Azafrán, a Nashville community center, to promote his Executive Order on Immigration, Adrienne Kittos, an attorney for Tennessee Justice For Our Neighbors, was there to witness the historic occasion.

TNJFON is one of several non-profits housed at Casa Azafrán to serve the city’s burgeoning immigrant community—and the only one to offer free and low- cost legal aid to immigrants and refugees. Adrienne has been with TNJFON since the fall of 2009, but she has been a tenacious defender of the vulnerable and underserved in the immigrant communities of Nashville her entire adult life. In 2012, Adrienne was honored as the New Advocate of the Year by the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services.

As the president himself acknowledged, Nashville, the home of country music and the Grand Ole Opry, may seem to be an odd venue choice for a discussion of immigration reform. But Nashville is also home to one of the fastest-growing immigrant communities in the United States, accounting for 12% of the city’s total population, more than double from a decade ago. In 2014, Tennessee JFON served clients from 24 different countries, including immigrants from Moldova, Nepal, and Greece.

In Nashville, the President found an audience eager to listen, and just as eager to question.

“It was such a wonderful experience to be there,” Adrienne enthused, “surrounded by tireless advocates for immigration reform, including some who have been working toward greater equality in Nashville for decades.”

Adrienne was pleased with the President’s prepared remarks, agreeing wholeheartedly with his call for civility and greater understanding on both sides. “He talked about how he has found that a change of heart comes about so many times from being personally acquainted with someone facing the difficulties of living in the United States without lawful immigration status,” Adrienne recalled, “He said he has received many letters from people who were opposed to immigration reform until they learned that their child’s best friend, or a member of their church, was undocumented.”

The President’s answers to questions from audience members left Adrienne feeling very hopeful for the future. “Overall, my takeaway is that he recognizes that there is still a lot of work to be done,” she said, “and my impression is that he does intend to continue pushing for reform while he is in office, rather than resting on the executive action announced on November 20th.”

Leaving Casa Azafrán, audience members were confronted by the sight of several protestors carrying signs, expressing the usual ugly sentiments, including one with a swastika made of American flags. “They stood in stark contrast to the room I had just left,” said Adrienne, “and served as a reminder that there are still many people who find the idea of increased opportunities for their immigrant neighbors to be threatening.”

The protestors, however, were soon drowned out by supporters, chanting, “Obama! Escucha! Estámos en la lucha! 

“There is still a long way to go,” admitted Adrienne, “but the will to continue the fight is evident in Nashville.” She smiled—the smile of strength and determination her clients and colleagues know so well– indicating that Adrienne Kittos is primed for that fight.