Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall took part in a private meeting with U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano Tuesday morning to discuss the oft-controversial 287(g) program and its future both nationally and in Nashville.
Hall on Tuesday told The City Paper the meeting with Napolitano went well and said the new secretary views 287(g) as “an invaluable tool for partnership between federal and local law enforcement to work together and act as a force multiplier.”
Hall spoke with Napolitano at a private meeting with the executive board of the National Sheriffs Association. The association is meeting in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where Napolitano was the keynote speaker.
In May, Napolitano delivered a sort of state-of-homeland-security address and used similar language to describe the implementation of 287(g). The program allows local law enforcement to check the immigration status of individuals who come into the county jail. More than 5,000 illegal immigrants have been identified in Nashville and set on the path to deportation.
While she said in May that 287(g) continues to be effective, Napolitano also cautioned the program needs “strong oversight.” The security secretary is calling for a review of the Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) between local and federal offices to address concerns like racial profiling by local law enforcement.
However, Hall said Napolitano was supportive of 287(g) as it exists in Nashville where local enforcement (Metro Police) is separate from the officers checking immigration status (Davidson County sheriffs).
“She specifically said she sees the jail model growing in the future and to other communities around the country,” he said.
Earlier this year, Hall said he welcomed a review of the MOU agreements between the local sheriffs and the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is under the Department of Homeland Security umbrella.
Hall said Napolitano expressed the preference that the MOUs be clearer, but he said he did not anticipate sweeping changes to the way 287(g) is implemented.
In some places, like Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff's deputies have policing responsibilities and can directly check immigration status. Although those powers are separated in Davidson County, local critics of 287(g) still say the program ensnares the wrong people too often. Some individuals have been set on the path to deportation for minor offenses like traffic violations or fishing without a license.
The most prominent incident was that of Juana Villegas, a pregnant woman who was stopped in Berry Hill a year ago for a traffic violation and subsequently gave birth while in sheriff’s custody. That incident drew national media attention and put Hall on the defensive about the merits of the program.
The sheriff said his office is not in a position to simply ignore whether an individual has broken federal immigration laws, but opponents believe the program should be aimed at serious criminals.
In the meantime, the ICE detaining policy was reworked recently so that those arrested for minor traffic offenses would not be housed in federal custody, but would be ‘Released on Recognizance’ (ROR). Hall said the ROR policy actually reverts back to the previous arrangement with ICE and would not apply to individuals arrested for driving under the influence.
“This does not change the way we do our job,” Hall said. “It only affects the way individuals are detained after they’ve been charged locally and checked and given a court date.”