Blog Archive

Friday, August 27, 2010

Immigrants jailed after fishing without a license; License violators face deportation after arrest

By Chris Echegaray
August 26, 2010

For most who fish in Nashville's lakes and streams, getting caught without a license means a ticket, up to a $50 fine and forfeiting the catch.

But for immigrants nabbed by Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officers, it can mean a trip to jail a nd possible deportation to their home countries.

Since the Davidson County Sheriff's Office instituted an immigration enforcement program in 2007, the wildlife agency issued 820 citations in the county but took only 29 people to jail — all of those immigrants. An agency spokesman initially said officers don't take people to jail for fishing without a license.

Shown data that reveal otherwise, a different official said the arrests were actually made because the fishermen weren't carrying valid identification.

"We have to determine they are who they say they are," said Cape Taylor, Region 2 law enforcement manager. "If you can't determine that, and they don't have a valid ID, they are going to be arrested."

Immigrant advocates say the figures are one more example of how the sheriff's program misses the mark, causing illegal immigrants who commit minor offenses to be jailed and, typically, separated from their families by deportation. Arresting people for fishing without a license does not secure a community from real threats and can constitute racial profiling, said Art Venegas, former Sacramento police chief.

"I think those kind of deportations have a chilling effect on communities," said Venegas, whose Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative seeks to educate officers on immigration issues. "You want people to step forward on more serious crimes. Also, how safe is Nashville now after deporting these people for fishing without a license?"

Stephen Fotopulos, executive director of the Tennessee Immigration and Refugee Rights Coalition, said the fishing license arrests are more proof of what his group has always said — the sheriff's program focuses on immigrants who commit minor offenses.

Named 287(g) after a section of federal immigration law, the program allows Davidson County deputies to run all foreign-born inmates through an immigration database and hold them for possible deportation through U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

But the federal agency has stressed repeatedly, in statements and reports, that 287(g) resources are meant to rid the U.S. of dangerous felons.

Sheriff's office spokeswoman Karla Weikal said a third of those processed through 287(g) for fishing license arrests had prior charges.

"Advocates have sensationalized the issue of this particular scenario because it further vilifies the program," Weikal said. "The immigrant community would be better served if advocates would spend more time publicly explaining how to avoid the arrest in the first place rather than perpetuating fear."

It was unknown Wednesday whether any of those prior charges were felonies.

Analysis of Davidson County's 287(g) data has shown repeatedly the most common reason for processing is a traffic violation.

Of the 29 immigrants taken to Davidson County's jail for fishing without a license, 25 were processed for deportation. Records show those included three men fishing in J. Percy Priest Lake on April 25 —Isidro Cardoza, 22, Juan Hernandez, 21, and Roberto DeLeon Martinez, 29. One had a single small-mouth bass in a bag. None had fishing licenses or U.S.-issued identification.

It's unclear what happened to them after the arrest — the sheriff's office can't release the names of people on immigration detainers. No one answered the door at several addresses listed for those arrested.

Since the start of 287(g) in Davidson County, 7,887 inmates have been processed through the program and 5,338 were deported, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Temple Black said.

Tennessee and surrounding states require a Social Security number to purchase a fishing license. Illegal immigrants can't have Social Security numbers. The cost begins at $5.50 for a one-day Tennessee fishing license.

Contact Chris Echegaray at 664-2144 or