State High Court Hears Argument Against Sheriff’s Immigration Powers

Juana Villegas gave birth while jailed because of 287g. She and dozens of supporters marched around the state Supreme Court building.

The Tennessee Supreme Court is considering whether Davidson County’s sheriff can legally enforce immigration law. Before the high-court Thursday, attorneys argued about whether the Metro Charter allows the sheriff to do any police work.

Attorney Elliott Ozment has had it out for the so-called 287(g) program ever since cases began surfacing in which undocumented immigrants were deported for such petty crimes as fishing without a license.

His case before the state high court has nothing to do with the legality of the federal program. Instead, Ozment is waging a technical attack based on Metro’s founding document.

As a way to prevent turf battles when the county and city governments consolidated 50 years ago, police powers were taken away from the sheriff, which now operates the jails.

“So to the extent the sheriff is exercising immigration enforcement authority, that’s illegal under the charter.”

Sheriff Daron Hall has a different reading.

“We clearly are in a law enforcement capacity. That’s what we do. But there’s a difference between having a criminal arrest authority – which we don’t have and don’t do – and being in law enforcement.”

The plaintiff named in the case is merely a straw man for the legal argument. He was held for nine hours on the suspicion he was in the country illegally, even though he was born in Oregon.

Since the 287(g) case deals with a technicality specific to Nashville, the plaintiff’s attorneys say a ruling against the program would not affect other cities.

Opportunity to Renew 287(g) Criticisms

The plaintiff in the case is a young man named Daniel Renteria-Villegas. He was detained for nine hours on the suspicion he was in the country illegally, even though he was born in Oregon.

But it was an unrelated Villegas leading chants during a march to the Supreme Court building.

“Sheriff Hall, don’t stall, Juana needs justice.”

Jauna Villegas, who was arrested for driving without a license, gave birth while in the custody of Sheriff Daron Hall. For her treatment, she was awarded $200,000 by a trial court. Metro Government is appealing the decision.

These are two separate cases, but the plaintiffs are represented by the same attorney.

Please keep your community civil. Comments will be moderated prior to posting, and Nashville Public Radio reserves the right to approve them at its discretion. Comments containing links promoting goods, services - even noble organizations - will not be published. Your comments may include external links, but all comments with links will be delayed as they are reviewed. Comments containing profanity will be rejected.