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State, local officials push for immigration judge

By Amanda Maynord
nashvillecitypaper.com

One the eve of the first anniversary of Davidson County’s 287(g) immigration enforcement program, state and local officials are making an effort to bring an immigration judge to the county.

The Sheriff’s Office announced at a press conference yesterday it would process 3,000 illegal immigrants by April through the program that allows local law enforcement to check immigration status and begin the process of deportation.

However, the process is lengthy and many immigrants pinpointed for removal have to be processed through a judge in Memphis or Oakdale, La., which could take up to six weeks for a bond hearing, according to one immigration advocate.

“This is outrageous and it cannot be allowed to continue,” said Elliot Ozment, immigration lawyer and chair of the immigration committee for the Nashville Bar Association.

Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall has a solution.

Having an immigration judge in town, Hall says, would expedite the process.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and Representative Jim Cooper have already made a written request to the Department of Homeland Security for the installation of a judge locally. Both were on hand yesterday at the press conference.

In their request, Alexander and Cooper both cite the success of the county’s 287(g) program, writing that as the program matures, “allotting an immigration judge to Nashville would help expedite the process and alleviate the current logjam, thereby saving the federal government money while satisfying our local communities.”

Although local law enforcement officials have lauded the programs progress, 287(g) is not without criticism.

“This program has had a very chilling effect on the immigrant community and immigrant community members are much less willing to interact with the broader community,” said Stephen Fotopulos, policy director for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

The coalition has been monitoring the program since it’s inception last April.

Fotopulos is, however, in agreement that an immigration judge is needed.

“Certainly there is incredible injustice in the immigration system now where as someone is arrested in Nashville that could spend weeks in some jail [out of state],” Fotopulos said. “All the while not being able to talk to their immigration attorney or not being able to talk to their family.”

The judge would be provided through federal funding and Hall said an immediate fix could be a traveling judge that would cover several areas.

The 287(g) program is a portion of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act that was implemented here in March 2007 and is aimed at giving local governments the power to deport illegal immigrants.

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