Saturday, November 25, 2006

Tennessee Sheriff Wants Immigration Data
Local jail problem is an indictment of federal immigration system

Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall wants to do something about illegal immigrants who commit crimes.The sheriff isn't talking about rounding up brown-skinned folks and asking for proof of citizenship. He's not talking about subjecting Hispanics to a different arrest process.He merely seeks tools that would allow Davidson County to do a job that could be done by the federal government.
The members of Tennessee's congressional delegation should wholeheartedly support Hall's efforts and use them as a catalyst for fixing one piece of a federal immigration system that is dangerously out of whack.Hall has applied for a federal immigration computer system that would allow officials at the Metro Jail to check the status of people arrested in Davidson County who were not born in the United States.
Currently, jail officers send queries about non-U.S. born individuals who are arrested to a federal computer in Vermont, but according to Hall, the federal system puts an "immigration hold" only on individuals who are already accused of aggravated felonies. That means that people who are known illegal immigrants can have numerous arrests for lower level crimes, including drunken driving, without triggering the deportation process.
Charlotte, N.C., has a system similar to the one sought by Hall. Using the experience in that city, Hall believes that his department will identify about 2,960 inmates annually to send to immigration court. Nashville now sends 151 inmates yearly into the deportation pipeline.
Obviously, Hall's effort will affect only a sliver of the immigrant community. But it is the segment that demands most of the attention.While Hall is commended for his aggressiveness in addressing this issue, his effort is a damning indictment of the immigration system. If local sheriffs can't even get a straight answer about whether someone they are holding is illegal, how in the world are they supposed to cooperate with the federal government on deporting illegal immigrants?In this election year, immigration is a potent campaign issue.
Tennessee's congressional delegation now has a chance to do more than spout rhetoric and reinforce myths. They have a chance to line up behind Hall and the nation's other law enforcers who now struggle with a federal immigration system that will not tell them what they need to know.

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