The Knox County Sheriff’s Office has formally entered into an agreement with federal immigration officials that will allow deputies to perform some of the duties of immigration officers after undergoing training.
The agreement is part of the 287(g) program, which is strongly opposed by activist groups such as the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC).
Knox County is the only agency in Tennessee currently participating in the program, which was authorized by a 1996 federal statute. President Trump supports the program and has revived it after it was scaled back under former President Obama. The number of participating agencies has been growing. Currently, 45 law enforcement agencies in 18 states are involved.
Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones signed the Knox County agreement June 13 and an official with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) signed June 15. The agreement is good through June 2019.
Acting on a request from ICE, Jones had asked for, and received, letters of recommendation from Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and Rep. John J. Duncan Jr.
After completing their training, deputies in Knox County chosen for the program will have the delegated authority to interrogate suspected illegal immigrants detained by law enforcement, collect evidence and process paperwork. They can issue detainers, serve warrants and transport arrested illegal immigrants subject to removal to ICE-approved detention facilities. They will be required to work under the guidance of ICE supervisory officers.
Jones previously told the Knoxville News Sentinel he wanted to become part of the program to make his operations more efficient. Currently when people are arrested, their immigration status is run to see if they can be deported for their crimes. The process can take up to three weeks at $100 a day. The 287(g) program will streamline the process to two or three days, saving the county jail space and money, Jones said.
Jones has told WBIR Channel 10 that only illegal immigrants who are arrested for some other crime will be affected. Crimes that do not warrant arrest will not put someone in danger of deportation through the program, he said.
Knox County was denied for the program in August 2013 because of federal budget cuts.
The Davidson County Sheriff’s Office participated in the program for several years before ending its involvement in 2012. However, the sheriff’s office has continued to cooperate with ICE despite protests from immigration activists and supporters of the recently withdrawn Metro Council “sanctuary city” bills.