NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — After being sued for creating rules in secret, a state commission on Friday rescinded a policy that directed local jailers to check the immigration status of detainees.
The Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission was required to develop the policy by a recent state law, but a suit filed last month claimed they did so by email and in meetings that were not announced to the public.
State attorney Joe Underwood, speaking at the commission’s monthly meeting on Friday, recommended that members rescind the rules. They did so unanimously.
Underwood said that detainees will still have their immigration status checked as part of a federal program called Secure Communities that is now active in all 95 counties.
He told the commission that under Secure Communities, federal immigration authorities will receive electronic copies of the fingerprints of all detainees. It will then be up to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to decide whether to request an immigration hold on someone.
“Basically, this takes local law enforcement out of the process,” he said.
Underwood said that should remove the concern that some local jailers are engaging in racial profiling — questioning only those detainees that they perceive to be foreign because of the way they look or talk.
Attorney Elliott Ozment, who filed the suit against POST, said he was satisfied with the vote and would sign paperwork to drop the suit later on Friday.
“This (decision) is important because we have run into problems with how these POST Commission regulations are being implemented in the counties,” he said.
Ozment has filed a separate suit in federal court claiming the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office has violated immigrants’ rights by detaining people without a request from ICE to do so.
Ozment said he expects cases like that to continue to come up under Secure Communities, but he will wait to hear from clients about their experiences before challenging the program.
Stephen Fotopulos, director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, also attended Friday’s meeting. He said he would like to see the POST Commission take further action to educate jailers about when they are legally allowed to detain someone suspected of an immigration violation and for how long.
As for the POST Commission providing notice of its meetings, “I think it’s learned its lesson on that,” Ozment said.
Note: News release below.
News release from Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition
NASHVILLE–The Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission today voted to do away with citizenship verification procedures it had unanimously approved on October 15th, 2010. The procedures were the byproduct of Senate Bill 1141 of 2010, legislation sponsored and passed by State Senator Delores Gresham (R-Somerville).
During the 2010 legislative session, Senator Gresham pushed forward SB1141 over the strong objections of sheriffs and civil rights organizations alike, even as critical questions about implementation remained unanswered:
“What kind of documentation would be required to prove that you’re a citizen…would there be any kind of legal recourse? Could that person later on when they were released and get a hold of their papers, would they then be able to sue the jailer for unlawful detention?” –Senator Beverly Marrero questioning Senator Gresham during debate in Senate Judiciary Committee
“I don’t know.” –Senator Delores Gresham (the bill’s sponsor), in response
In its meeting this morning, the POST Commission ruled that statewide participation in the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Secure Communities program more than satisfies any requirement that jailers share information with ICE. The revoked procedures remain the subject of several lawsuits, including one filed in Davidson County contending that the POST Commission drafted the policy in violation of Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act and the Tennessee Uniform Administrative Procedures Act. Additional lawsuits in various states of litigation contend that, because of the hastily drafted law and its implementation, county sheriffs across the state are detaining individuals in direct violation of Federal law, the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, and the Tennessee Constitution.
The following is a statement from Stephen Fotopulos, Executive Director of the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition:
“We are encouraged by the POST Commission’s decision to scrap these flawed procedures that call for unlawful interrogation and detention of foreign-born individuals. The previous policy was carelessly drafted, essentially requiring sheriffs across the state to engage in unlawful and unconstitutional acts and burdening local taxpayers with unfunded mandates and costly legal challenges. This entire episode provides a stark reminder of the dangers of turning local government employees into federal immigration agents, as well as a cautionary tale for the Tennessee General Assembly to more fully consider the costly implications of passing state-based immigration laws.
“While the ruling today is a first step in correcting the damage, we urge the commission and the Tennessee Attorney General to further clarify the responsibilities and restrictions on local jailers when participating in the so-called ‘Secure Communities’ program. Secure Communities has recently been plagued with nationwide controversy, as just last week news broke of a 14-year-old girl in Dallas–an American citizen who did not speak a word of Spanish–who was mistakenly deported to Colombia, South America.”