Immigrant Families March Against 287(g)



Juana Villegas leads the march
  • Juana Villegas leads the march

Less than 24 hours after his temper tantrum aimed at the Dean Administration, Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall (recently named one of the worst local politicians in the nation regarding matters of immigration) found his office in the crosshairs of a protest aimed at DCSO's pet 287(g) immigrant detention program.

Late this morning, a group of nearly 100 Hispanic-Americans, immigrants and their children gathered in the narthex of the Downtown Presbyterian Church to protest the family-rending, rights-shredding effects of DSCO's 287(g) program, in advance of a march that culminated on the steps of the Tennessee Supreme Court, where oral arguments are currently underway to determine the fate of Metro government's interpretation of the highly contentious detention program. The rally and march were organized by the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition and the Migrant Women's Committee.

Twenty-year-old Amelio Moreno, a Nashville resident who was detained under 287(g) last year due to suspected racial profiling, criticized the program's effect on his family as his mother stood next to him at the lectern, clutching his shoulder.

"My heart tore to pieces when I heard my little sisters crying" when he called home from jail, Moreno said. "This program is failing, and it's just destroying our families."

Other speakers included Juana Villegas, the Hispanic Nashville mother who made international headlines after giving birth in the custody of the sheriff's office, and Mercedes Gonzalez, a then-Overton High School student detained on a specious traffic charge. They wore handcuffs around their wrists as a symbol of their incarceration, which they proceeded to throw into a trash can prior to the march.

In all, the speakers took issue with the myriad deleterious effects they say the program has on Hispanic communities, most notably the silencing of victims of domestic and sexual abuse who are too afraid to report abuse to authorities for fear of unjust deportation; racial profiling; and creating a climate of fear in otherwise peaceful communities — anecdotal evidence that confirms the findings of a 2009 report from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Lena Graber, a Boston-based representative of the National Immigration Project who spoke at the rally, tells Pith that she cannot fathom why Nashville is still participating in the roundly criticized federal detention program when the feds have made it clear that 287(g) is to be phased out to make way for Secure Communities, an Orwellian-named program not dissimilar to 287(g).

"That's the question that we often ask to [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] directly: 'Why do you still have this program that's so controversial?' " Graber says. "In Davidson County, and particularly in Arizona, it has been such a lightning rod and has such a bad track record. They don't have very much of an answer for that, other than the model of the 287(g) program [allows ICE to] push off more of their work onto local police officers. To that extent they still see it as something convenient to keep around."

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