A federal database sharing program used to identify and then deport illegal immigrants could be in the future for Bedford County, according to law enforcement officials.
Sheriff Randalll Boyce sat down with Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall and his staff in Nashville Friday to talk about the possibility of implementing the program in Shelbyville.
The system is called the 287(g), which is named after a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) passed in 1996. It permits the Department of Homeland Security [DHS] to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies to allow them full federal authority to enforce immigration laws.
It would work like this: If someone is foreign born and is arrested in Bedford County, a federal check would be run to see if the person is who they say they are. If the person is found to be in the country illegally, once they've served their jail time locally, they would be deported.
The sheriff, administrative officer Larry Lowman and officer Trey Arnold have been in touch with Hall's department since January about the 287(g) system.
"We're not going out here targeting anybody," Boyce said, adding that people who are foreign born would be checked through the database only if arrested. "The people that don't get pulled into jail aren't going to have a problem."
But Boyce also said that using the system would save the county money in the long run, and deal with many of the repeat offenders that his department copes with every week.
"We get these people over and over and over again and if we can get them out of our county, out of our system, out of our hospitals, out of our schools, the people that are illegal, I think that it would help us."
Arnold pointed out he recently had an Hispanic man booked through the county jail that had eight different aliases.
Under the DHS agreement, officers would receive training and operate under the direction of federal authorities. The training also shifts liability to the federal government and provides officers with additional immunity when enforcing federal immigration laws.
The system has been in use in Davidson County since April, where the sheriff there has identified 605 foreign-born nationals who are in the country illegally, according to the Nashville City Paper. In the first 60 days the system was used, 75 percent of the total number of foreigners booked into the Metro Jail were found to be in the country illegally.
The Rutherford County Sheriff's Office applied for the program last week and the Tennessee Highway Patrol is also considering the system. Boyce said he had been looking into the program over the past several months and says it would work pretty well for the county.
The sheriff said there were very few counties in the nation using the program, and Nashville is the first in the state to have it. With still a few bugs to work out of the system, the feds don't want that many departments jumping into the program just yet, Boyce said.
"We're in the talking stage, but we're very interested in doing it."
Boyce said training for the officers and the computer system would come from the federal government. The county would have to pay the officers' salaries and that would require approval from the County Commission, which Boyce said he is going to "bring to the table."
While the latest census figures from 2006 say that 11.7 percent of Bedford County is currently Hispanic, which gives the county the highest number per capita in Tennessee, Boyce has been told by Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] officials that that figure is likely 20 percent or even more.
"If you're showing 10,000, you've got 20,000," is what federal immigration officials have explained to the sheriff. "'You've got a lot more than is reported,' the ICE people told me," Boyce said. "A lot more."
The population of Tennessee is currently three percent Hispanic. From April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2006, Bedford County has seen a population change of 15.5 percent, while the state's shift was at 6.1 percent, according to the U.S. Census.
Lowman also said that according to figures he recently received, Bedford County schools are now 25 percent Hispanic.
Boyce also believes that the fact that Davidson County is already using the system and that Rutherford County is studying it will result in more illegal immigrants coming to Bedford County to escape law enforcement agencies that use the database system.
The sheriff pointed out that his department is already beginning to see signs of notorious gangs like MS-13 and the Mexican Mafia in Bedford County. Lowman mentioned that even photos published in local papers have contained gang hand signs that most people would not be aware of.
"We've got to head this off before that gets a hold here," Boyce said. "What we're seeing is a little bit of graffiti ... but if you wait until it's full blown ... we want to be proactive instead of reactive. I feel like the public is very interested in this. They don't want to see gangs and stuff on the streets. They want to see this [repeat] DUI stuff cut out."
Last week, Davidson County General Sessions Court Judge Casey Mooreland asked that Sheriff Hall's staff provide any and all immigration information they obtain from the 287(g) program on criminal defendants on his case dockets, saying he will no longer accept plea bargains for known illegal immigrants.
The City Paper reported that this was partially in response to the recent charge of vehicular homicide against an illegal immigrant who had been through the Nashville court system twice, receiving mild sentences such as supervised probation.
Boyce was thinking along the same lines on Monday.
"I don't want somebody in this county to get run over and killed by someone that I've had in my jail numerous times ... and he's still here."