[UPDATE: Unfortunately, yesterday, May 13, 2020, Sheriff Spangler renewed for another year Knox County’s involvement with the ICE 287(g) program. You can read about it here. This is one of the many areas where Knox County government needs some oversight from County Commission. I am committed to helping to provide that oversight as the Commissioner from District 4. Vote August 6!]

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while. The current Sheriff of Knox County, Tennessee, Tom Spangler, renewed the controversial 287(g) partnership between ICE and Knox County last summer. The Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the two parties “delegates some federal immigration enforcement powers to local agencies.” In this case, to the Knox County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO).

There is a local organization which has been fighting the Sheriff’s office on this – Allies of Knoxville’s Immigrant Neighbors (AKIN). A member of the AKIN Steering Committee, Sarah Margaret Hutchison, wrote an op/ed with some interesting facts about this program. She noted that the KCSO is one of only two law enforcement agencies in Tennessee participating in this program. She also pointed out that “jurisdictions participating in 287(g) engage in practices that target Latino residents at higher rates. In Knox County, Latino residents are frequently targeted and arrested on offenses that non-Latino residents receive only citations for.”

Aside from this, the KCSO has been rebuked by the judge in a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s office for its lack of cooperation and disclosure of arrest records related to the 287(g) program.

It turns out that you can see a copy of the Memorandum between ICE and the KCSO on the ICE website. I’ve given this 20 page agreement a once over. I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert in immigration law and I’m sure there are lots of details that I don’t know about how this agreement between ICE and the KCSO works. But there are a few things I find interesting in the agreement.

First, in Section V, it talks about Inter-Governmental Service Agreements whereby the KCSO “will continue to detain, for a reimbursable fee, aliens for immigration purposes, if ICE so requests, following completion of the alien’s criminal incarceration.” It appears that the KCSO does have such an agreement. AKIN has a copy of the contract on their website, so we have some details. But, how can we know how whether this fee makes up for the full cost of keeping extra prisoners in our already overcrowded jail? Does it make up for the extra man hours that KCSO officers (who are deputized ICE agents under this agreement) spend dealing with these extra prisoners? ICE doesn’t pay the salaries of KCSO ICE deputized officers. Does that mean they take on extra ICE duties in addition to their regular duties? Do they need to pay overtime to make up for the extra work? Or do they have to hire more officers to make up the slack?

Second, in Section XII it says, “the KCSO will be responsible and bear the costs of participating KCSO personnel with regard to their property or personal expenses incurred by reason of death, injury, or incidents giving rise to liability.” So, if I’m reading that correctly, Knox County is on the hook to be sued and potentially have to pay damages for any negligent or unlawful actions taken by their ICE deputized officers. I note that Nashville had to pay almost $500,000 for their treatment under the 287(g) program of a pregnant woman who was shackled while she gave birth after being arrested under the 287(g) program. Is this really an expense we want to incur on behalf of a federal agency? In general, I question why we’re OK in Knox County with expending the time and resources of our local law enforcement officers to do the job of federal law enforcement.

Third, I’m troubled by the KCSO’s secrecy on this program. It’s clear that Sheriff Spangler signed the extension to the MOA on May 14, 2019. News reports show that the KCSO did not announce the extension until a “news dump” on Friday, June 28, 2019. The Addendum to the MOA extended the term of the agreement until June 30, 2020.

I am opposed to this program for all of the reasons above and so many more. But I’m equally troubled by the lack of transparency by the KCSO in dealing with their involvement with ICE. I assume that the KCSO believes in this program. But they hide and delay and don’t cooperate with requests for information. It’s a bad look for the Sheriff’s office.

Now, in Spring 2020, there’s another reason to be rid of our involvement with the 287(g) program in Knox County. I saw a news item in my email last Friday about how Washington County in Arkansas had suspended their participation in the 287(g) program because of the strain of COVID-19 on the county jail. This is evidently at least the second jurisdiction to halt the program because of the coronavirus. Florida’s Monroe County did the same in April. I understand we have pretty bad overcrowding in our county jail. This fact is made worse (I assume, but don’t know because the KCSO won’t release data) by the number of 287(g) detainees in there. Why do we put our residents in more danger of infection by COVID-19 for the sake of this optional federal program?

The list of reasons to be against the 287(g) program are long:

  • It harms the relationships between law enforcement and minority communities;
  • It leads to increases of racial profiling;
  • It does not improve community safety or prevent crimes from occurring;
  • It leads to more overcrowding in our county jail;
  • It does not save Knox County taxpayers money;
  • It may even cost us more money if you count man hours lost;
  • It means that our local law enforcement is distracted from their local duties in order to perform federal law enforcement duties

The list of reasons to be in favor of the 287(g) program is…incomplete. Since the KCSO won’t provide information to the public and won’t come out publicly to defend the program and refute criticism with actual data, I can’t come up with a single thing to put on the list in favor of this program.

So, here’s my bottom line pledge as a candidate for County Commission. I oppose Knox County’s involvement in the 287(g) program. I believe it is bad for the country and bad for Knox County. I hope that Sheriff Spangler does the right thing and lets the agreement expire without renewal on June 30, 2020. If Sheriff Spangler continues Knox County’s involvement with this program and I am fortunate enough to be elected to the County Commission, I will be a voice and vote for transparency on this program. I will be an ally of AKIN and any other residents of Knox County who oppose this program. I will do everything I can as County Commissioner to end our involvement in the 287(g) program. #end287g #spanglerend287g #knoxvilleunited