KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — After President Joe Biden issued an executive order on his first day in office to revise the “Civil Immigration Enforcement Policies and Priorities,” law enforcement agencies across the country participating in the 287(g) program would soon need to slow down their related procedures.
That includes the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, according to Randy Nichols, the attorney representing the KCSO.
“The Department of Homeland Security has contacted us and told us that the program may be under review, and basically for us to slow down our procedure,” Nichols said.
Nichols said the changes aren’t drastic.
If undocumented immigrants are taken to the jail for any kind of infraction, they will still be reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), however what happens after the fact could be different depending on if the person gets charged, and what they get charged for.
Nichols said if offenders fall into one of the following three categories, they most likely won’t be detained for deportation processing:
“They only want to deal with people that are charged with a violent, a very violent crime, or they are a threat to national security, or they are multiple offenders, that is they’ve been deported, and they’ve come back into the country,” Nichols said.
Local immigration rights advocates said the change in priorities is good news.
Before the executive order, Claudia Caballero, CEO of Centro Hispano de East Tennessee, said undocumented immigrants were even afraid to call 911 in emergencies, for fear they could be deported.
She said legal citizens have rights they take for granted on a daily basis.
“I have leeway in my life to make mistakes, right? Maybe I’m speeding five miles over, or maybe I rolled a stop sign or maybe a light went out in my car,” Caballero said.
Alessandra Ceccarelli, Program Director for immigrant services at Catholic Charities of East Tennessee, said it’s been like that for undocumented immigrants ever since Knox County joined the 287(g) agreement.
“We’ve been talking with our clients for four years now about… what the risks were of even driving without a license,” Ceccarelli said.
Ceccarelli said non-violent undocumented immigrants were often detained and transferred to ICE in Memphis for the hearings, or Louisiana for detention, after going into KCSO custody, even if they were simply taking their kids to soccer practice.
According to Allies of Knoxville’s Immigrant Neighbors (AKIN), about 85% of undocumented immigrants held at KCSO for immigration enforcement were held for misdemeanors since 2017.
About 81% were being held for non-violent crimes.
“They are placed in removal automatically at that point, because they are in the United States without proper documentation, even though they might have never ever committed any other crime than driving without a license,” Ceccarelli said.
She said they wouldn’t last in KCSO custody for very long before being transferred to the detention center in Louisana.
Ceccarelli said that place is in the middle of nowhere, with barely any available services to undocumented immigrants, and a far travel for family members to visit.
She said the 287(g) program often completely uprooted the lives of families who might have been living in Knoxville for years without doing any violent crimes.
Ceccarelli said the current change or slow down of the 287(g) priorities means only those who are charged with violent crimes have to face the possibility of being separated from family.
“You know, it’s not simply being arrested and detained; not even convicted of a crime. We’re talking about conviction of a serious offense,” Ceccarelli said.
Ceccarelli said the changes are only temporary, so it’s only temporary relief for local undocumented immigrants. She said Congress needs to pass legislation, otherwise the executive order will be challenged. Ceccarelli said it’s already being challenged in some states.
Caballero said she hopes the changes with the executive order make a difference for the whole community.
“I’m hoping that it makes, the reduction of the 287(g) priorities what it’ll do is actually create a safer community for all of Knoxvillians,” Caballero said.