The federal program designed to train local law enforcement, either patrol officers or only jail officials, to work on immigration enforcement is 287(g) and participation is voluntary. States, counties, and cities are expected to pay their salaries. Although formulated in 1996 as part of immigration reforms, local officials only began to express interest after 2001. Nashville participated in the jail model from 2007 to 2012.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations documented racial profiling and other abuses associated with its implementation in Nashville, and in counties in Arizona, North Carolina, and Georgia. In Nashville, about 10,000 immigrants were put in deportation proceedings and about 70 percent were picked up for minor traffic violations and/or misdemeanors, such as driving without a license.
By 2012, immigrant rights groups thought they had convinced the Obama Administration to stop implementing 287(g) programs, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced they were considering new programs for Knox County, Tennessee, and Horry County, South Carolina. In Knox County, immigrants and allies (including from UT: Meghan Conley in sociology, Fran Ansley, retired professor of law, and De Ann Pendry in anthropology) tried to dissuade the Knox County sheriff from enrolling in the program. He would never meet with the group, so they organized protests, signed petitions, and contacted ICE and other agencies. In 2013, ICE decided not to implement 287(g) in Knox County due to “sequestration of federal funds.” The Knox County sheriff was so angry he said he would stack up “violators” in his jail like “cordwood.”
In 2017, after President Trump signed executive orders to promote the use of 287(g), ICE announced it was considering 18 new counties for 287(g), including Knox County. Thus, again immigrants and allies are working on trying to prevent its implementation. Documentation was sent to a national review committee. A march was held in downtown Knoxville in May. People are meeting with county commissioners to explain the full costs of this program. Teachers in K-12 have organized to support immigrant students because they have witnessed family fears and incidents of anti-immigrant bullying. Meanwhile, lobbying for in-state college tuition for undocumented students continues.
These struggles are ongoing.