SPLC Asks Tenn. Supreme Court to Block Illegal 287(g) Immigration Agreement in Nashville

The Southern Poverty Law Center and its allies asked the Tennessee Supreme Court today to block an agreement between Nashville and federal authorities that violates state and local laws by allowing the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office to enforce immigra¬tion law.

“This agreement is illegal and enforcing it simply adds insult to injury for the Nashville community,” said Tom Fritzsche, staff attorney for the SPLC. “The program is fraught with problems and abuses. It undermines public safety by creating a distrust of law enforcement and is nothing more than a prescription for crime in Nashville’s communities.”

The groups, which presented arguments to Tennessee’s highest court, filed a lawsuit in January 2011 because the agreement between Nashville and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that created a 287(g) immigration program in Nashville violates state and local laws.

The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department – not the sheriff’s office – is designated as the primary law enforcement agency under the metropolitan government charter. State and local laws limit the duties of the sheriff’s office to ensuring the safety and security of county jail inmates and serving all civil process. It cannot assume immigration enforcement duties.

A Congressional mandate prevents ICE from creating 287(g) programs in communities where the program would violate state and local laws. Nashville’s 287(g) program clearly violates this mandate by having the sher¬iff’s office assume immigration enforcement duties.

The groups challenging the agreement with the SPLC include the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild and the Law Offices of Elliott Ozment, joined by local attorneys from the firm of Sherrard & Roe.

“The legal prohibition on the Davidson County sheriff’s performance of law enforcement functions is as old as the metropolitan government itself,” said Elliott Ozment of the Immigration Law Offices of Elliott Ozment. “The 287(g) agreement clearly violates that prohibition.”

The federal 287(g) program was created to allow immigration authorities to partner with local law enforce¬ment to capture criminals who threaten communities or national security and are in violation of immigration law. But a 2010 report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General found that of the cases it surveyed, only 9 percent involved violent crimes or crimes that are a high priority to ICE.

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.

Davidson County sheriff’s deputies have been interrogating detainees about their immigration status and rec¬ommending their deportation to federal agents since 2007.

“The 287(g) program is not making the community safer,” said Trina Realmuto, counsel for the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild. “Instead, the program fosters distrust for law enforcement officials in the immigrant community, making it less likely immigrants will report crimes, including crimes of domestic or sexual abuse.”

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. A reluctance to report crime makes these immigrant communities targets for criminals.

Attorneys on the case include Fritzsche, Christina Iturralde, and Daniel Werner of the Southern Poverty Law Center; Realmuto of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild; Elliott Ozment and Andrew Free of the Immigration Law Offices of Elliott Ozment; and Bill Harbison and Phil Cramer of Sherrard & Roe.