Even after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rejected Knox County, Tennessee’s request to participate in a controversial immigration program, Sheriff JJ Jones vowed to take immigration enforcement into his own hands. In a response to ICE’s denial, Jones threatened to stack undocumented immigrants “like cordwood” in the local jail.
ICE sent a letter to Jones’ office stating that the federal government is unable to authorize Knox County because of “resource concerns, including the impacts of sequestration.” But Jones sharply rebuked the government’s denial to allow Knox County to participate in the 287(g) program which would allow local authorities to enforce federal immigration laws. Jones wrote that even without the 287(g) program implementation, he would defy ICE and enforce federal immigration law:
Once again, the federal government has used sequestration as a smokescreen to shirk its responsibilities for providing safety and security to its citizens by denying Knox County the 287(g) corrections model. An inept administration is clearing the way for law breaking illegal immigrants to continue to thrive in our community and ultimately be allowed to reside in the United States. Hopefully, the denial of this program will not create an influx of illegal immigrants who think that without this program they will be able to break the law and then be less likely to be deported.
The vast majority of Knox County citizens feel just as I do when it comes to the issue of illegal immigration. I strongly support the 287(g) program and will continue to make every effort to pursue its implementation. I will continue to enforce these federal immigration violations with or without the help of U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). If need be, I will stack these violators like cordwood in the Knox County Jail until the appropriate federal agency responds.
Whether Jones knows it or not, the phrase “stack bodies like cordwood” has a long association with the gruesome World War II atrocities committed by Nazis who stacked deceased Jews in massive pits.
Even aside from the poor choice of words, Jones’ intention to pursue immigrants for the sake of being undocumented goes against even the federal guidance of prioritizing criminal immigrants. In fact, the rationale behind the 287(g) program is to help the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) prioritize criminal removals.
In its 2011 decision invalidating much of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, the U.S. Supreme Court reiterated that immigration enforcement is the purview of federal officials, and that local officials may, with limited exceptions, only arrest someone based on their immigration status. By committing to take federal enforcement into his own hands and defy ICE, Jones would almost certainly exceed his authority.
The controversial 287(g) program has been lambasted by immigration advocates for encouraging racial profiling as well as creating mistrust between the Latino community and local law enforcement. So prominent was racial profiling a factor in Davidson County, TN that the program had to be stopped. Deportable offenses included nonviolent immigrants who committed minor offenses like fishing without a license. An ACLU study found that more than 10,000 Latinos living in Davidson County between 2007 to 2012 were deported. Latinos make up only 9.9 percent of Davidson County’s population. Other studies have found that programs like the 287(g) and Secure Communities, which also creates a partnership between federal and local authorities. actually hinder, rather than help public safety.