Supporters and detractors of the controversial 287(g) program squared off Monday night during a meeting of the Metro Council Public Safety Committee, a meeting that ended with a unanimous vote to approve a revision to the program.
Proponents say the program has been an effective way keep to illegal aliens with criminal histories off the street, but detractors say it creates a dangerous culture of fear for all immigrants.
The federal 287(g) program, which was started in Nashville in April 2007, delegates U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement authority to local law enforcement agencies.
Just short of 100 communities across the nation participate in the program, and all previously had slightly different agreements with the federal government. The Obama Administration is working to restructure the pacts to make them more uniform throughout the country. The restructuring will not change how the Nashville program is implemented.
Bass, Berry & Sims attorney David Esquivel, who argued the program created a sense of distrust of authority within the community, said it's bad public policy to put a wall between certain groups and the police.
“I'm concerned about the way that this program has forced thousands of our neighbors to live in fear of minor traffic stops or any sort of interaction with police that drives them further into the shadows of our society,” he said.
Armed with a PowerPoint presentation, Sheriff Daron Hall outlined the data that his department had collected since the 287(g) program was first initiated in Davidson County. According to those figures, Hall said his office has seen no pattern of abuse of the program.
“Since the implementation of the program there's been a 58 percent decline in the percentage of illegal aliens committing crime in this community,” Hall said, adding that 6,400 individuals have been processed for removal through the program.
One of the original concerns over the program was that police officials would be more likely to physically arrest rather than issue a citation for individuals who have committed a misdemeanor crime, creating a de facto immigration enforcement option.
In his presentation, Hall said the data does not support that concern.
“The data supports that more people that are foreign born are now being issued citations and are not being taken to jail at all,” Hall said. “That clearly demonstrates to me that citations are not being ignored instead to have the individuals arrested so they will be checked into 287(g).”
Esquivel also argued the current program put too much of a burden on police officers to identify which situations call for a citation and which call for an arrest.
“287(g) also provides officers with an incentive to rely on proxy indicators to tell who is foreign born because those are the category of people who will be screened for 287(g) when they arrive at the jail,” he said. “That incentive will inevitably and unfairly lead officers to consider proxy considerations for being foreign born, such as language ability, ethnicity, or race.”
Following the meeting, Hall said he feels the current Davidson County setup avoids such problems because every physical arrest must be justified by a magistrate at the jail before the suspect is screened for immigration violations.
'If we didn't have that role I would be more concerned about that,” he said. “I have no reason to believe it's not working the way it is and we have a quality control check with a judge or judicial magistrate there to authorize all arrests.”
Esquivel said he was disappointed by the unanimous committee support for the program, but he said it raised awareness of the issues flagged by the program. He remains concerned that the project targets misdemeanor offenses, casting a wider net on who is affected by the procedure.
Metro Council will vote Tuesday to ratify the revised agreement.