KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Knox County Sheriff’s Office will continue to take part in an immigration enforcement program.

Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler confirmed to WATE 6 On Your Side he signed the memorandum of understanding a few days ago to renew the 287(g) immigration enforcement program.

The program has been a point of controversy with some community groups since former Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones first signed onto it.

The program works by giving local authorities access to records to see if a person under arrest is facing immigration enforcement. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says this is only after they’ve been arrested at the state or local level.

Knox County’s participation has brought protests in the past as well as a lawsuit over access to public records requests regarding the program.

Sheriff Spangler says his deputies are not targeting people because of their immigration status.

“If they have warrants on them and they’ve committed a crime just like anybody else within our community, they’re going to jail,” Spangler said, “Again, I get very personal about this it really bothers me: don’t commit a crime you don’t have to worry about us. We’re not knocking on doors. We’re not going out here looking for people. I’m not going out here to sites looking for people that look different because they think that I’m coming after them because they’re here illegally.

Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler

Spangler also renewed this agreement last summer.

Spangler said he wants anyone in Knox County to feel safe reporting a crime if they are a victim.

 “Those officers, once they get there, they will not be asking them about their immigration status. That’s not what they do. I get really, really, upset when people start talking that way that we put people in jail just because,” said Spangler.  

The county started participating in 2018 under previous sheriff JJ Jones.

“I don’t know how to move forward”: Community groups against 287(g) renewal

Claudia Caballero, Executive Director Centro Hispano de East Tennessee sees the only solution to improving relations between KCSO and the local Latino community is to stop renewing 287(g) in Knox County.

“I appreciate the sentiment of wanting to make a safe community for everyone. The very first thing that needs to happen to improve the relationship with the Latino community is to eliminate 287(g). End of discussion. It has to happen,” said Caballero.

Caballero is a leader in the Latino community and says there is a real fear within the community surrounding 287(g).

“I can help create trust, when I can trust that the sheriff’s department has the best intentions for my community,” said Caballero.

On Friday, May 15, Allies of Knoxville’s Immigrant Neighbors is hosing a physically distant car rally to “publicly call upon the Sheriff to end 287(g) and affirm Knox County as a welcoming community.”

In a release, AKIN included a petition with signatures asking Spangler to decline to renew the 287(g) contract.

Spangler says the current renewal agreement is still waiting on approval from Washington D.C.