Tennessee's 287(g) Under Fire

In July, I posted on the story of Juana Villegas de La Paz, a woman arrested during a routine traffic stop in Tennessee. Jauana was forced to give labor while shackled to her bed, under the measures of the 287(g) local law enforcement agreement in Tennesee. The 287(g) program trains local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law. The result is abuses of power like the case of Juana Villegas. Well, now Tennesseans are taking note of the injustice being caused by the program.

The local paper "The Tennessean" recently ran an article calling for more "common sense" in the program's approach to immigration enforcement.

The program has had its successes. In the first 12 months, 3,000 arrestees were found to be here illegally; most of those individuals were later deported or otherwise left the city.

But only 19 percent of those were charged with felonies — homicide, rape, aggravated assault or armed robbery — the type of serious crimes that led to the program. Most arrestees had committed traffic misdemeanors, and only 38 percent had previous arrest records, again mostly misdemeanors.


The low point for this program occurred in July, when Juana Villegas, a foreign-born pregnant woman arrested on careless-driving charges, was shackled to a hospital bed during part of her labor. She was restrained specifically because she was suspected of being an illegal immigrant. The charges were later dismissed, but the outcry from human-rights groups and widespread publicity over her treatment led Sheriff Daron Hall to change the rules. Pregnant inmates now will be restrained only if there is credible information that they might try to escape or present a danger to themselves or others.

Good steps, but it shouldn't take Amnesty International and The New York Times to bring common sense to the process.

Common sense is what leaders of Nashville's immigrant community and members of the Sheriff's Immigration Advisory Committee are calling for. The committee, required under terms of 287(g), has urged the sheriff to set guidelines for which arrestees undergo interrogation, instead of subjecting to it anyone who is foreign-born.

And an op-ed appeared the same paper criticizing the program. The author, the President of Nashville's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, points out that the program's consequences were known to officials prior to implementing the measures.

I have watched as non-criminal immigrants in our community have been shackled, detained and deported after brief, sometimes random contact with Metro police. When those smart men gave 287(g) their endorsement, they knew the impact that this policy would have on immigrants. How could they not have known that immigrants would become terrified of turning to police? That a segment of the community would become gagged accomplices to criminality out of fear of deportation?

Politicians and law enforcement officials must also have known that police resources and jail space would be redirected toward arresting and detaining harmless immigrants who had done little aside from leaving the house without a photo ID. In fact, our flawed system would not allow one to be issued to a certain class of people; among them, people lawfully admitted to the country.

This is a perfect example of why a piece-meal approach to immigration reform will never be effective. Until Just and Humane Comprehensive Immigration reform is passed, expect to see more injustice of the sort in Tenneessee.