published Saturday, January 14th, 2012

Immigration status jail checks rescinded

NASHVILLE — After being sued for creating rules in secret, a state commission on Friday rescinded a policy that directed local jailers to check the immigration status of detainees.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 in December 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 still will have their immigration status checked as part of a federal program called Secure Communities that is 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 then will 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 is satisfied with the vote and would sign paperwork to drop the suit.

“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.

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