Knox Co. sheriff to decide soon on controversial immigration program

11:37 PM, Jul 2, 2013   |    comments
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One of the leading lawmen in East Tennessee announced Tuesday evening he will soon make a decision on a controversial program aimed at catching criminals who are in the country illegally.

Knox County Sheriff J.J. Jones held a discussion with residents at the Knox County Health Department about the 287(g) program. If enacted, the program would allow the sheriff's office to check a suspect's legal status while they are detained.

Jones told the audience of about 100 people he will be making a decision on whether to former adopt the program in just a few weeks. He said he is just waiting to receive some more information from federal officials. 

Jones said he expects to get that in the next several weeks.

Some in East Tennessee have expressed concern 287(g) could lead to unfairness toward the Hispanic community and racial profiling.

Lourdes Garza, director of Hispanic Ministry with the Diocese of Knoxville, said she believes the Knox County Sheriff's Office does not fully understand the repercussions 287(g) could have on the Hispanic community.

"He said nobody should be telling their children, 'I'm not going to be coming home tomorrow'," she said. "[But], that's a reality today, when you come home from school, I might not be here."

But, Jones, surrounded largely by a crowd that opposed 287(g), shot down claims the program would lead to racial profiling.

"In the Knox County Sheriff's Office, the color of one's skin means not one bit," he said.

Jones told attendees they would have little to fear about 287(g), if he decided the county should enforce the measure.

He said deputies will not be searching for people to take into custody due to their immigration status, but if someone is detained for another reason, the program would allow officers to check their status. Jones said, no matter the result, a detainee would have the opportunity to bond out of jail.

He added that deputies would also receive free training from the federal government as to how to properly conduct the program and a federal agent would be housed locally to help them in the effort.

"How better to get it right than have this agent, there in our facility, who we can deal with directly," he said.

Knox County would be the 40th law entity in the country to use 287(g) if Jones decides to take up the program. The Davidson County Sheriff's Office, in Nashville, used it between 2007 and 2012.

DCSO Spokesperon Karla West told 10News the program removed 10,000 illegal immigrants from the county. She also said DCSO, over a five-year period, witnessed an 80 percent decline in the percentage of immigrants that it arrested.

"We saw crimes related to foreign born illegal aliens dramatically decrease," West said.

She said Davidson County ultimately got rid of the program in 2012, because the need for it decreased.

However, she added the program might not necessarily be appropriate for Knox County.

"What makes sense for Davidson County, might not make sense for Knox County, or Shelby County, but for Davidson County it really was the best decision for us," she said.

West said Davidson County did not receive any financial help to implement the program. She said the department only moved around its resources.

Jones said if the program happens in Knox County, KCSO would take up a similar approach. He said he anticipates little to no cost as well.

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