U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) along with U.S. Representatives Jim Cooper (D-Tenn. 5th) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn. 7th) today joined Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall in urging federal officials from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to install an immigration judge in Nashville to speed up the process and reduce the cost of removing illegal immigrants, such as the approximately 700 processed since April 2007 who were arrested for at least one serious crime such as homicide, robbery, aggravated assault or burglary.
“Sheriff Hall and the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office have done a better job than any other county east of Phoenix, Arizona with this new program to remove criminal illegal immigrants, processing more than 3,500 since April 2007,” said Alexander during a meeting in his Washington office. “Sheriff Hall has told us that Davidson County needs an immigration judge to make the process of deporting illegal immigrants quicker and cheaper, and I will continue to press his case in Washington.”
“The Davidson County Sherriff’s Office has done an excellent job utilizing the 287(g) program to remove illegal immigrants,” said Corker. “I look forward to continuing to work with Davidson County officials and the Justice Department to come up with a reasonable solution that meets the needs of our state.”
“The sensible, humane way to deal with people detained in Nashville is to have a judge hear their cases in Nashville,” Rep. Cooper said. “Sending people hundreds of miles away to Louisiana to await a hearing only makes it harder for them to communicate with lawyers and family members, and I’m skeptical that it saves the government any money. The Justice Department must ensure that taxpayers are getting their money’s worth and people in federal custody are allowed fair legal proceedings.”
“These days, one of the top issues I hear about from Tennesseans is illegal immigration,” Rep. Blackburn said. “The Tennesseans I talk to are gratified to hear about the success of the 287 (g) program, and they appreciate Sheriff Hall’s hard work in ensuring over 3,000 illegal immigrants are deported after serving their time. They are anxious that, together with the Department of Justice, Tennessee takes the next step to ensure that criminal aliens are dealt with appropriately with the installation of an immigration judge in Davidson County.”
“Both the local and federal system would benefit from the placement of an immigration judge in Nashville,” Sheriff Hall said. “This issue is something that everyone can agree on, including immigration advocates. The Tennessee delegation was instrumental in getting the 287 (g) program to Nashville and have worked with us in the continuing effort to improve the way our system deals with illegal immigration.”
In January 2007, Davidson County became one of the nation’s first municipalities to be approved for participation in the 287(g) program, which provides federal immigration enforcement training for Davidson County Sheriff’s deputies, who are then able to check the immigration status of individuals being held in the county jail and initiate deportation proceedings if they are determined to be in the country illegally. Final approval was granted during a meeting of Tennessee congressional lawmakers, federal officials and Davidson County law enforcement agents held in Alexander’s Washington office on January 31, 2007.
On March 6th, Senator Alexander and Representative Cooper sent a letter to Julie L. Myers, Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), requesting the installation of an immigration judge in Nashville. Having an immigration judge in Nashville would expedite the process and ease the current logjam in the courts.
On March 24th, Alexander, Cooper and Blackburn joined Sheriff Hall and other Davidson County officials in Nashville to celebrate the first year of implementation of the 287(g) program. In that one year, Davidson County law enforcement:
• Received valuable training and resources from ICE that empowered local officials to conduct immigration checks.
• Set approximately 3,500 illegal immigrants for removal.
o Davidson County has processed the largest numbers of cases for removal east of Arizona, more than any other county in a non-border state.
o Only four other counties in the country processed more illegal immigrants than Davidson County during their first year in the program.
• Removed nearly 50 gang members from the streets of Davidson County.
o Close to 700 – or nearly 25 percent – of the illegal immigrants processed have been arrested for at least one serious crime such as homicide, robbery, aggravated assault or burglary.
Alexander also spoke with U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey during an April 10th hearing of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies about acquiring an immigration judge for Nashville. Alexander was also able to speak with the Attorney General in private about this issue before the hearing.
Currently, all persons processed under 287(g) in Nashville must report to Memphis or Oakdale, Louisiana, for an immigration hearing. Alexander, Corker, Cooper and Blackburn have joined Sheriff Hall in suggesting that the additional burden to the court system, as well as costs for transportation and housing, could be avoided if a federal immigration judge were located in the city.