Despite our previously successful efforts from 2012-2013 to prevent the implementation of 287(g) in Knox County, we are now in a new situation because the Trump administration intends to expand this program across the country. AKIN learned recently that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is presently considering 287(g) applications from 18 counties across the country, including one from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.
Background and some history
For those who are unfamiliar with this program, 287(g) encourages collaboration between ICE and local law enforcement. If Knox County’s application for 287(g) is approved, county deputies who work in the jail will be trained as ICE officers and will be able to question inmates about their documentation status and initiate deportation proceedings against those who are found to be undocumented. In effect, this program will increase the number of local officials involved in immigration enforcement.
As many of you know, Sheriff Jones originally applied for this program in 2009, but for years ICE never took action on the application. Meanwhile, in Arizona, North Carolina and Georgia, and in Nashville, TN, groups like the ACLU and the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) documented numerous cases of racial profiling and abusive practices related to 287(g). From 2012 to 2013, the Comité Popular de Knoxville and Allies of Knoxville’s Immigrant Neighbors (AKIN) led a campaign to convince the sheriff not to participate in this program. Sheriff Jones continuously refused even to meet with us, so we held vigils, protests, contacted the media, and wrote letters to other officials. In the end, ICE decided not to sign the agreement, citing problems with “sequestration of federal funds.” Our sheriff was so angry at this outcome he said he would enforce immigration law with or without federal approval and would “stack up violators like cordwood” in the jail.
As soon as AKIN learned of this renewed application, we again sought a meeting with the Sheriff to discuss the renewed application and to urge him to reconsider. Once again we have been told that the Sheriff sees no reason to meet with us. We hope he will change his mind, but we do not intend to passively wait and see.
In the final days of March, the AKIN steering committee, in coordination with allied groups and individuals, submitted a letter to ICE’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) documenting multiple egregious civil rights violations, recounting the lack of transparency and community accountability that characterized the Sheriff’s handling of 287(g) issues in 2012-2013, and expressing our view that Knox County’s record makes it an exceedingly poor candidate for the 287(g) program. The Knoxville Branch NAACP also submitted a letter to CRCL voicing its opposition to implementation of 287(g) in Knox County, and TIRRC and the national ACLU followed that by submitting a letter to the Department of Homeland Security with their own objections and concerns.
The ICE 287(g) Advisory Board met on Thursday, April 6 in Washington, DC to discuss whether it would recommend implementation of 287(g) in any or all of the 18 counties whose applications were then before it. We have not yet learned what happened at this Advisory Board meeting, nor do we know the next steps in the process by which ICE itself will approve or deny these applications. Of course we are doing our best to monitor developments, and we will keep these lists informed.
We sincerely hope that the Sheriff will reconsider his decision to go forward with this application and/or that ICE will decide Knox County is an inappropriate place to begin expanding the 287(g) program. But whatever happens, with or without 287(g) in Knox County, we know there will be many challenges ahead for our immigrant neighbors and for any of us who want to walk beside them in an effort to defend values we can be proud of – values like equality, dignity, inclusion, and fairness.
Many hands will be needed. Please add yours.