Daniel Renteria-Villegas, et al., v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, et al.

Since 2007, the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office in Nashville, Tenn., had the power to enforce immigration law through the federal 287(g) program, even though the metropolitan government designated the Nashville Police Department as the primary law enforcement agency. The Southern Poverty Law Center joined a federal lawsuit in August 2011 to end the 287(g) agreement because it violated the Metropolitan Charter of Nashville and Davidson County.

The lawsuit argued that the Tennessee Supreme Court previously ruled that the Nashville Police Department was solely responsible for all prevention and detection of crimes, investigation and apprehension of criminals, and enforcement of criminal and civil laws. Since 1963, the Davidson County Sheriff's Office has had only two responsibilities: the safety and security of all inmates housed in Davidson County jails, and the service of all civil process.

The federal 287(g) program was created to allow immigration authorities to partner with local law enforcement to capture criminals who threaten communities or national security and are in violation of immigration law. A Congressional mandate prevents Immigration and Customs Enforcement from creating 287(g) programs in communities where the program would violate state and local laws.

Nashville’s 287(g) program, which allowed deputies of the Davidson County Sherriff’s Office to interrogate detainees and recommend deportation, clearly violated this mandate by having the sheriff’s office assume immigration enforcement duties.

One of the plaintiffs in the case, Daniel Renteria-Villegas, is a U.S. citizen who was arrested on Aug. 22, 2010, on a warrant that was dismissed for lack of probable cause. Even though he was born in Oregon, the Davidson County Sheriff's Office held him for possible immigration charges. They did not release him until Sept. 3, 2010.

The program also threatened to undermine public safety by creating a distrust of law enforcement. A 2009 SPLC report, Under Siege, found that nearly three-quarters of the Latinos surveyed in Nashville were more reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement due to the 287(g) agreement. Both documented and undocumented immigrants, as well as Latino U.S. citizens, said 287(g) programs made them fearful of law enforcement and reluctant to call them if victimized – actions that can make immigrant communities targets for criminals.

Co-Counsel: 

Trina  Realmuto, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild; Elliott Ozment and Andrew Free, the Immigration Law Offices of Elliott Ozment; and Bill Harbison and Phil Cramer, Sherrard & Roe.