The Davidson County Sheriff’s Office will cease using the controversial 287(g) immigration program when their memorandum of agreement with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcements expires on Oct. 8.
Sheriff Daron Hall sent a letter to ICE Director John Morton Tuesday morning, notifying him of their discontinuation of the program — which allowed trained DCSO employees to turn over illegal immigrants to federal authorities. Instead, the DCSO will operate under another federal program called Secure Communities.
Under the new program, all inmates booked into Davidson County Jail will have their fingerprints matched up against a Department of Homeland Security database of illegal immigrants. Secure Communities allows ICE — not local authorities — to decide whether or not to extradite inmates.
“To be honest with you, the difference is if you’re not already in the immigration system with your fingerprints, it will not identify you,” Hall said. “It will [catch] fewer [illegal immigrants] than 287(g) but far greater than what we had six years ago. We had no alternative.”
Hall justified the move by pointing to the success of the 287(g) program in Nashville. According to DCSO statistics, there has been an 80 percent decline in the number of foreign-born arrests since the 287(g) implementation in 2007.
“The numbers processed have decreased so dramatically that our work load of our 287(g) deputies has also significantly been decreased,” Hall said. “We said from the beginning that we would not continue to do the program if it was not having a significant impact in our community... well, that day has come.”
Another driving force behind the move away from 287(g) is a series of proposed charter amendments by Metro’s legal department that will clarify sheriff office responsibilities. Hall said that dropping the controversial 287(g) program could help clear the way for the charter amendments.
“I did not want the 287(g)’s future to distract from this process as the council and the public consider this amendment,” Hall said. “If you take the 287(g) off the list of things we do, I hope the controversy around that will go away.”
The other duties clarified under the proposed charter amendments  include booking authority and serving warrants to inmates.
Immigration advocates applauded Hall’s move away from the 287(g) program.
“We are encouraged that Hall has taken accurate measure of the changing political winds and finally realized what other city leaders have long understood: Harsh enforcement programs that unnecessarily separate immigrant families are not in line with basic Tennessee values of family, hard work, and fairness,” said Stephen Fotopulous, executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.
In June, the Tennessee Supreme Court heard arguments  in a case that challenged the sheriff’s authority to carry out the 287(g) program. But Hall said the department’s abandonment of the program had nothing to do with a potential ruling.
“I think it’s irresponsible to be up here saying we need to keep doing it just so the courts don’t rule against us,” Hall said. “Regardless of all the other things going on, the only thing I wanted to make sure we got in front of was ... the charter amendments.”