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Will an arcane legal challenge bring down Nashville's controversial 287(g) program?

ICE Hazard

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The problem, ICE critics say, isn't just that Davidson County's 287(g) program and many others fail to scoop up the right kind of undocumented immigrants. It's that the program is detaining people who aren't legally deportable. A 19-year-old kid like Daniel Renteria-Villegas got tangled up in the system even though he's a citizen and he proved it from the start.

But even repeat offenders like Gustavo Garcia Reyes — the undocumented serial drunk driver who provided the impetus for the sheriff's office to enter the program — don't adequately explain the need for 287(g). Even before the program, Davidson County's sheriff's deputies would have known Reyes had a lengthy string of priors upon booking. If the bond had been set high enough, or if the criminal penalties for repeat offenders were strict enough, it's unlikely an alcoholic of limited means would have been careening through the streets again.

So when someone like Reyes gets out, is it less an immigration issue and more a criminal justice issue? It cuts to the heart of Sheriff Hall's justification for partnering up with ICE. For all the bluster about weeding out the worst of the worst, the practice on the ground hasn't matched the preaching in Washington, D.C. Nor has the preaching in Washington always matched what ICE officials expect in private communications.

As the legal battle over 287(g) nears a Davidson County courtroom, the larger debate may form around two questions. First, why did we really sign on to the program — to rid the city of dangerous criminals, or undocumented immigrants? Second, and perhaps more to the point, do we even need it? Tennessee recently passed a state immigration law requiring jailers to ask whether someone is here illegally and place the suspect on a 48-hour ICE hold if he isn't. The law does not apply to places like Nashville, which already has a program with ICE — but it would seem to cover the same territory.

As for the Reyes problem, it's an anachronism now. Because of ICE's ambitious new program, Secure Communities, a massive link-up of Homeland Security and FBI databases, an undocumented offender would receive an ICE hold as soon as the database returned a hit. He'd be picked up soon after and put into immigration detention. Simply put, it's not 2006 anymore.

Certainly not for ICE. For 2011, their national goal is 404,000 deportations. It could be another record-breaking year.

Email editor@nashvillescene.com.

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