State Commission Scraps Controversial Immigrant Interrogation Procedures

New ruling comes in wake of costly lawsuits filed against county sheriffs

NASHVILLE—The Tennessee Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission today voted to do away with citizenship verification procedures it had unanimously approved on October 15th, 2010. The procedures were the byproduct of Senate Bill 1141 of 2010, legislation sponsored and passed by State Senator Delores Gresham (R-Somerville).

During the 2010 legislative session, Senator Gresham pushed forward SB1141 over the strong objections of sheriffs and civil rights organizations alike, even as critical questions about implementation remained unanswered:

“What kind of documentation would be required to prove that you’re a citizen…would there be any kind of legal recourse? Could that person later on when they were released and get a hold of their papers, would they then be able to sue the jailer for unlawful detention?” —Senator Beverly Marrero questioning Senator Gresham during debate in Senate Judiciary Committee

“I don’t know.” —Senator Delores Gresham (the bill’s sponsor), in response

In its meeting this morning, the POST Commission ruled that statewide participation in the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Secure Communities program more than satisfies any requirement that jailers share information with ICE. The revoked procedures remain the subject of several lawsuits, including one filed in Davidson County contending that the POST Commission drafted the policy in violation of Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act and the Tennessee Uniform Administrative Procedures Act. Additional lawsuits in various states of litigation contend that, because of the hastily drafted law and its implementation, county sheriffs across the state are detaining individuals in direct violation of Federal law, the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, and the Tennessee Constitution.

The following is a statement from Stephen Fotopulos, Executive Director of the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition:

“We are encouraged by the POST Commission’s decision to scrap these flawed procedures that call for unlawful interrogation and detention of foreign-born individuals. The previous policy was carelessly drafted, essentially requiring sheriffs across the state to engage in unlawful and unconstitutional acts and burdening local taxpayers with unfunded mandates and costly legal challenges. This entire episode provides a stark reminder of the dangers of turning local government employees into federal immigration agents, as well as a cautionary tale for the Tennessee General Assembly to more fully consider the costly implications of passing state-based immigration laws.

“While the ruling today is a first step in correcting the damage, we urge the commission and the Tennessee Attorney General to further clarify the responsibilities and restrictions on local jailers when participating in the so-called ‘Secure Communities’ program. Secure Communities has recently been plagued with nationwide controversy, as just last week news broke of a 14-year-old girl in Dallas—an American citizen who did not speak a word of Spanish—who was mistakenly deported to Colombia, South America.”

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