Knox County experts weigh in on illegal immigration laws

Knox County experts weigh in on illegal immigration laws

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By ANN KEIL
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - In the wake of the controversial new illegal immigrant law enacted in Arizona, a local officer and a legal expert broke down procedures in Tennessee.

"We come across them (illegal immigrants) when they get arrested for another crime," says Sgt. Terry Wilshire, with the Knox County Sheriff's Office.

Sgt. Wilshire says they can't arrest illegal immigrants because of their immigration status. It's a federal crime so U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement must be contacted.

"There is a group of about three or four removal officers in Knoxville. We'll call them any time of day, and they'll come out to a scene and work with us," Wilshire explains.

This protocol, while common, will no longer be in effect in Arizona.

University of Tennessee associate law professor Karla McKanders explains how agencies in Arizona will soon be given more authority.

"It permits the police officers to check someone's documentation and say you're undocumented and charge them with a crime," McKanders says.

In Tennessee, no legislators have made a move to enact anything similar. McKanders says that brings relief to immigrant advocates.

"There is not proper training for the state and local officials to check proper documents and to make sure someone is undocumented," McKanders says.

Sgt. Wilshire admits it would be difficult to stop someone and question their nationality, but the Knox County Sheriff's Office is acting. They hope to enter into what is called a 287(g) agreement with federal authorities.

"It gives us access to department of immigration's computer system. It gives us access to their files and to their information about the person of interest we're investigating," Wilshire says.

If a state or local law enforcement agency enters into the 287(g) agreement, some of their officers can be trained to perform the duties that federal immigration officers are trained to do.

It also gives local agencies access to information that would help them more easily identify illegal immigrants and know more about who they are.

A new program will also be unveiled in June, and the Knox County Sheriff's office will be the first agency in Tennessee to participate. It's called the Secure Communities Program.

Sgt. Wilshire says it brings the information sharing among agencies to a whole new level. For example, fingerprints will be submitted to several databases which would help document illegal immigrants.

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