Jared Allen, Nashville City Paper, September 5, 2006
After a recent spate of violent crimes allegedly committed by illegal or suspected illegal immigrants, Nashville has asked to become one of five American cities empowered to deport its own criminal illegal immigrants.
On Aug. 15, Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall — with the full support of Metro Chief of Police Ronal Serpas and District Attorney Torry Johnson — filed paperwork to take part in a little-known federal government initiative called the Delegation of Authority Program or section 287 (g) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act.
The 287 (g) program gives local law enforcement agencies the “training and subsequent authorization to identify, process and, when appropriate, detain immigration offenders they encounter during their regular, daily law-enforcement activity,” according to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security fact sheet.
Local implementation of 287 (g) would not authorize the police or sheriff’s deputies to conduct active sweeps of suspected immigrants, nor would it allow any Metro agency to deport aliens who happen to be identified as illegal.
What it would do, according to Hall and others familiar with the program, is allow Sheriff’s Office personnel to screen anyone who is arrested and placed in jail, and who is suspected of being an illegal immigrant, to determine if those persons previously have been deported or are otherwise subject to any federal immigration enforcement action.
Presently, sheriff’s deputies must feed information on arrested suspected illegal immigrants to a federal database in Vermont and wait for an answer that may or may not come.
Hall said the discussions between Davidson County’s top three law enforcement officials began in earnest immediately after the June 8 vehicular homicide of a Mt. Juliet couple, allegedly at the hands of Gustavo Reyes Garcia, an illegal immigrant who had been arrested by Metro Police 17 times since 1997 but who served a total of only 168 days in jail.
“Certainly, Garcia brought to light some gaps in what I feel like is the federal government’s responsibility to keep criminal illegals off the street,” Hall said.
Meetings between Hall, Serpas and Johnson, along with federal immigration officials and officials in Gov. Phil Bredesen’s office, eventually pointed Metro to 287 (g)’s implementation in Los Angeles County, Calif.
“I’m pleased to see that Davidson County is taking steps to deal with criminal illegal immigrants in a more effective way,” Bredesen said in a statement. “At the state level, we will also continue to pursue fair and reasonable solutions to the issues caused by the influx of illegal immigrants into the United States.”
Hall said he hopes to have 287 (g) up and running in his jail by March.
“Our system has inherent flaws in it because it doesn’t provide us the information we need,” Hall continued. “Garcia was a deportee. He should have been deported any time he had been arrested… But I’m just as worried, if not more worried, about the four [suspected illegal immigrants] we let out last night.”
Through 287 (g), if a criminal in the system is found to be an illegal alien, local law enforcement officials — who will receive special training from the federal government at no cost to Metro — will begin deportation work immediately.
Those who are suspected of being illegal aliens will have to appear before a federal immigration judge and prove their legal status.
In Charlotte, 287 (g) has been a huge success, Hall and officials there said. And it was the experience of Charlotte — not Los Angeles or Phoenix — that sold Metro officials on the program’s potential.
Charlotte’s program sees success
Julia Rush, a spokeswoman for the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s office, said that since May 1, when their program began, officials have begun removal proceedings for 474 — 30 percent — of the 1,080 individuals who were brought into jail and who were not born in the United States.
“We started finding out immediately that we had a very large number of people in the system illegally,” Rush said. “It was a huge number that had some issue that would cause them to be deported.”
In contrast, of the 4,200 foreign-born arrestees that came through Metro jail last year, the federal government placed immigration holds on only 151 — 3.6 percent — of them, according to Hall’s office.