Metro Department of Law Director Saul Solomon acknowledges that a proposed Metro Charter amendment addresses a pending legal question on whether the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office has the authority to enforce the federal 287(g) deportation program.
“Would this make it clearer that the sheriff has 287(g) authority?” Solomon told The City Paper Thursday. “Yes, it would. But that’s again not the driver.”
The Tennessee Supreme Court is weighing whether or not Sheriff Daron Hall has the legal power under the 1963-era Metro Charter to enforce the controversial federal immigrant detention program known as 287(g). Metro attorneys contend he does, but immigrant advocates have challenged the city’s interpretation in federal court, arguing the sheriff’s role is confined to overseeing jails.
The proposed tweak to the charter, if approved by voters in November, would settle that question –– and grant the sheriff the authority, upon its passage, even if the court were to rule against Metro’s position.
Solomon said he agreed with this analysis but that this isn’t the intent of the proposal.
He stressed Metro is confident it will win its case before the Supreme Court and that 287(g) is not the impetus behind the amendment. The measure is aimed at addressing other administrative duties, he said.
“The real concern here is that the Supreme Court could, for broad language, make it impossible for the sheriff’s department to do certain of these other things that clearly we want to see the sheriff do,” Solomon said, functions the sheriff’s office is already overseeing that “save the taxpayer money.”
The 287(g) question arrived before the state Supreme Court following a suit in federal court from immigration attorney Elliot Ozment challenging the sheriff office’s agreement with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to carry out the immigration program.
Parties are waiting on a ruling after the court heard oral arguments in June.
Last week, Solomon told The City Paper he planned to file legislation for a charter amendment  to clarify three sheriff’s powers: booking arrestees, providing security at courts and taking DNA tests of inmates. If the measure were to clear the Metro Council, it would go before Davidson County voters on a referendum Election Day Nov. 6.
“We’re just trying to preserve, as between the sheriff and the police, what the sheriff can do and what the police can do to make it clearer under the charter,” he said.
Hall earlier this week said the amendment addressed “non-287(g)” matters –– duties that the Metro Nashville Police Department years ago transferred to his office to oversee.
But the amendment, now filed, would also authorize the sheriff to perform duties related to the “questioning and interrogation of arrestees, detainees and prisoners ... ,” as the Nashville Scene reported earlier this week .
The language overlaps with the 287(g) provision, which grants officials the ability to “interrogate any person believed to be alien as to his or her right to be in the United States.”
Ozment have challenged this very point, arguing the sheriff is unlawfully carrying out what are “quintessential law enforcement functions” that fall under the police department not sheriff, under the Metro Charter.
Solomon responded that the police department could lawfully enforce 287(g) even if a court were to rule the sheriff could not, though he said that would be a policy decision for the Metro Council to decide.
“To me, the whole power question is a weird kind of question because even if the sheriff doesn’t have the power to do it doesn’t mean 287(g) is unlawful,” Solomon said.
A resolution outlining the charter amendment is set to go before the council on Aug. 21. To make it on the November ballot, the measure needs 27 council votes at the council’s Sept. 18 meeting.
A three-year renewal of the sheriff’s 287(g) agreement with ICE is set to go before the council in October.