Blog Archive

Friday, May 27, 2011

Fewer deportations put 287(g) immigration program at risk; Immigrants’ fear, economy drive decline, critics say

Written by Brian Haas
The Tennessean
May 26, 2011

The number of immigrants detained in Nashville’s deportation program has been nearly halved. Federal dollars earned by the program have been cut by almost two-thirds.

Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall, whose 287(g) immigration program has been the subject of years of complaints, said its days are numbered if the declines continue.

“If we continue to trend this way… clearly our resources in the Sheriff’s Office could be better used in areas like mental health,” Hall said. “That’s what we would hope, which would be able to focus in a direct way in other areas.”

Deportation proceedings of jailed Nashville immigrants have dropped 40 percent since 2008 to fewer than 1,500 last year, with federal funding dropping more. Hall said the decline signals success, that immigrants deported for even the most minor crimes don’t return. But critics say a troubled economy and a cautious immigrant community are more likely to blame for the drop.

“The fact that it slows doesn’t suggest to me that the program is working any better or worse,” said Katharine Donato, professor and chair of Vanderbilt University’s Department of Sociology. “The program, yes, has been effective, it’s led to thousands of deportations. But if the population locally isn’t growing at the rate it once was, let’s say two years ago, of course you’re going to get a slowdown.”

Dropping numbers

Davidson County joined the 287(g) program in 2007, which allows deputies to screen and interview inmates to determine whether they are U.S. citizens. Suspected illegal immigrants are then turned over to immigration officials for possible deportation proceedings.

Hall has come under consistent criticism from advocates who say that far too many minor offenders are deported when the program was designed to target dangerous criminals.

Though the number of immigrants caught in the program has declined, a Tennessean analysis of 287(g) data shows that the top five charges immigrants faced in 2010 continued to be traffic or minor crimes. Driving without a license, DUI, implied consent violations, failing to show up to court and misdemeanor warrants made up 56 percent of the charges filed, higher than in prior years.

Hall has countered that he doesn’t determine who is arrested for what charge or who ends up deported.

“When we started we were adamant that we wanted to screen all people,” Hall said. “Everyone who is criminally arrested, taken off the streets of Nashville.”

That isn’t a surprise to immigration attorney Elliott Ozment. Ozment is suing Hall on behalf of two legal immigrants caught up in the 287(g) program, one of whom was held for days.

“I have never seen any evidence of him backing off that policy. If he has, I’m certainly not aware of it,” he said. “The sheriff still hasn’t straightened out the priorities of the 287(g) program.”

Cutting back

Attorney Gregg Ramos, who was on Hall’s 287(g) advisory board before it was dissolved, suspects some of the decline can be attributed to immigrants afraid to be driving Nashville’s streets out of fear of being deported.

“I know people are still scared to come out. They get stopped for playing their music too loud, they get stopped for a tail light allegedly out, they get stopped for tinted windows that are maybe too dark,” Ramos said. “Parents are afraid to engage in their children’s education.”

Donato said the decline can largely be traced to an overall drop in immigration from Latin American countries because of the lagging U.S. economy and a lackluster job market. Immigration from some smaller countries, such as El Salvador, has completely dried up, she said.

“Migration has slowed from Mexico and Latin America related to the economy. It hasn’t disappeared, but it has slowed,” she said.

Whatever the reason, Hall has already scaled back his 287(g) program. He started out with 15 detention deputies and a supervisor. Today, he’s cut back to 12 employees and is already mulling over what it would take to shrink the team even more. And he’s convinced that each cut is another sign of success.

“I think it’s pretty simple,” Hall said. “What’s wrong with ‘It’s worked?’ ”

Additional Facts

Drop in numbers

Number of immigrants held at the Davidson County jail for removal
2007 2,224
2008 2,506
2009 2,068
2010 1,474
2011 465*

*Through May 23, 2011, at 3:15 p.m. SOURCE: Davidson County Sheriff’s Office

Most common charges

Most common charges filed against suspected illegal immigrants held in the 287(g) program in 2010:
Driving without a license: 24.76%
Driving under the influence: 14.69%
Implied consent violation: 8.20%
Failure to be booked: 5.41%
Misdemeanor capias: 3.23%


Federal money received by the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office for holding immigrants under the 287(g) removal program.
2007-08 $1,045,845
2008-09 $659,642
2009-10 $368,867
2010-11 to date $254,797
(Projected to be $360,000)

SOURCE: Davidson County Sheriff’s Office