Monday, January 8, 2007

Deported, detained, or not; Sheriff will get new power over immigrants

Washington adds Nashville to limited list of cities granted access to federal database, personnel

Sheriff: only dangerous criminals should be detained, not ordinary immigrants

The Tennessean reported last Thursday that the Davidson County Sheriff's office has been approved for a federal immigrant initiative called 287(g), which "provides state and local law enforcement with 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 the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) web site. The Tennessean says that 287(g) could be in place and enforced in Davidson County within 90 days.

"Nashville officials estimate the program could result in 2,960 illegal immigrants being turned over to federal officials each year."

Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall has set up a community advisory council, which has met once and will meet again this Wednesday. See the WSMV-Channel 4 report here.

One concern about the program is that it will not distinguish between dangerous criminals and ordinary people. For example, Tennessee has stripped driving privileges (and motor vehicle insurance) from many noncriminal legal and illegal immigrants, which makes it more likely that they will be processed by law enforcement for driving without a license, even though they have not committed any violent crimes (see previous story in the Hispanic Nashville Notebook here). In one recent instance, even without 287(g) in place, a local mother named Claudia Nunez was scheduled for deportation when she showed up to traffic court. (Her story appeared in the Hispanic Nashville Notebook here.)

The impact of deportation on immigrants and their families, and their available options, has been featured not only in regard to the Claudia Nunez story, but also in this recent WKRN story ("They want you to give up"), as well as in other stories around the country (Denver Post ("friends and relatives worked their cellphones busily trying to bypass government, keeping children whose parents weren't present in hiding, fearing that social-services agents would snatch them away"), ("Two months later Josè Hernan was still there, languishing in a jail cell and cut off from the world while his deportation file gathered dust at a maze of federal agencies"), and the Salt Lake Tribune ("'Even though we are so poor we have hope... Even though we are sad we have hope. Even though we lost our home we have hope. Even though we have ragged cloth[es] we have hope. Even though we have no shoes we have hope. Even though we have no tree, we have hope for Santa.'")

The City Paper published this story about the concerns about 287(g), publishing Hall's response to the idea that 287(g) will lead to the indiscriminate deportation of ordinary immigrants:

"'The purpose of this is not to automatically deport people. It’s to avoid ignoring them,' Hall said."

"And Hall said he agrees with the group that his officers should not be detaining suspected illegal immigrants who pose no threat to the public."

The City Paper reported here that the idea for the 287(g) program in Nashville was sparked by a high-profile DUI death case which may have been prevented by, among other things, a program like 287(g):

"Not surprisingly, Hall said he anticipates having multiple DUI offenses listed among the situations that would lead a suspected illegal to being detained."

"That, Hall said, would have put Gustavo Reyes Garcia on the Sheriff’s immigration radar screen long before September, when after 17 arrests dating back to 1997 – 14 of them for driving offenses – Garcia allegedly crashed his SUV while driving drunk into a car driven by a Mt. Juliet couple, killing them both."

"'This all started with Gustavo Reyes Garcia,' Hall said. 'And after his first arrest in 1997 we probably would have released him on an order to appear in federal court. But if he had failed to appear or failed that test, he would have been deported then."

Hispanic advocates share the Sheriff's views that DUI is a public safety danger, and as a result they launched a public awareness campaign about the dangers of DUI (Hispanic Nashville Notebook story here). But recent stories about DUI stops in Hispanic parts of Nashville have concerned some advocates, who worry that sober drivers or passengers will be asked for their identification and detained because merely they are or look Hispanic. Tennessean stories here and here, with poll here.

The City Paper published the Metro Police department's comments on those concerns:

"Metro Police officials stressed that DUI enforcement – through checkpoints or otherwise – is based solely on officer observation of driving and driver behavior."

"'The police department never has and never will base its sobriety checkpoints on an area’s racial and ethnic makeup,' said Department spokesman Don Aaron."

"Aaron also said that sobriety checkpoints are not roadblocks, as immigrant advocates said many immigrants would fear."

"'When a person approaches a sobriety checkpoint, there is always an avenue to bypass the checkpoint,' Aaron said. 'Officers are not stopping cars asking for driver’s licenses or identification."

"He said the only instance an officer would ask for passenger driver’s license would be if an impaired driver consented to having a sober passenger transport his or her vehicle home."

According to the City Paper, Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights (TIRRC) President David Lubell "suggested including in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) – the document written by the Sheriff’s Office and DHS that governs local implementation of the program – a written policy spelling out that traffic violators would not be targeted."

Legal immigrants and U.S. citizens fear they will be targeted because of their ethnicity, race, or language proficiency. WKRN interviewed some residents who raised their concerns on camera (story on here, including comment by anchor/reporter Christine Maddela). The Tennessean story cites a legal immigrant who is concerned that he could be mistakenly caught up in the system, because the federal paperwork that proves he is here legally is confusing; and he fears for his wife who doesn't speak English yet.

The Tennessean also quoted TIRRC President David Lubell cautioning that the program could impair trust and communication between local law enforcement and immigrant communities.

Fisk professor Alfredo Cambronero told the Tennessean that "It is a type of policy that has good intentions, but lends itself to misuse, abuse and errors of different kinds, but will be of significant consequences. ... I'll hate to see policemen with the intimidation factor trying to put pressure on people to show what they consider to be the right documents."

Local implementation of 287(g) will not require any new laws but will enforce currently existing laws. In a country with a long history of lax enforcement of laws against certain immigrants, this is an important change at the ground level of ordinary people. The iniative does not, however, increase any enforcement against U.S. citizen violators of immigration law, such as employers or smugglers.

Later this week: interviews with key participants in the Nashville 287(g) application and implementation

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