The Davidson County Sheriff’s Office says it will no longer rent jail beds to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The announcement comes amid growing scrutiny of local cooperation with federal immigration agents.
Now, it’s up to the Metro Council to approve a new contract with federal law enforcement — one that will limit collaboration with ICE.
Sheriff Daron Hall has caught flak for holding ICE detainees in the local jail. Immigrants’ rights advocates urged Hall to end the agreement after a series of high-profile ICE operations this summer, including a four-hour standoff outside an immigrant’s home in Hermitage.
In a statement Tuesday, Hall called the contract a “distraction” from his office’s more pressing priorities. The sheriff said he’d rather spend less energy explaining the policy, which accounts for less than 1% of the jail’s bookings.
But Hall told WPLN in July that much of the debate is sparked by misperceptions.
“The confusion is what level of involvement we really have that we’re not required to have by law or federal mandate,” he said. “The public have trouble keeping up with it, because it moves all the time.”
Hall said the sheriff’s office must adhere to multiple state and federal immigration enforcement requirements, which can evolve with each new political adminstration. But Hall added that he’s been monitoring those changes closely and tracking their impact on the agency.
“If the president or a new initiative starts and it is increasing the involvement of people being booked in jails, we’ll surely evaluate whether we want to participate or not,” he said at the time.
The so-called “rent-a-bed” contract dates back to 1996, when Metro agreed to detain individuals in ICE custody. In return, the county would be reimbursed $61 a day per person.
The sheriff’s office stopped housing federal detainees passing through Nashville en route to immigration detention facilities in July, after President Trump announced plans for nationwide immigration sweeps. Hall told WPLN he didn’t want to support “more aggressive behavior from Immigration” that would increase the jail’s population.
“The only type of people we house in our jails would be someone who is arrested for local charges and subsequently ICE provided a warrant and detainer, and in those cases we would hang on to that person,” Hall said in July.
Starting Dec. 1, the jail won’t rent beds to ICE even when individuals have local arrest warrants.
Immigrants’ rights activists praised Hall’s announcement Tuesday.
“Sheriff Hall’s decision to end the jail’s rent-a-bed agreement with ICE is an important first step toward disentangling our jail from civil immigration enforcement and ensuring that our city is not complicit in tearing families apart,” Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition wrote in a statement.
Metro Councilman Bob Mendes also thanked the sheriff, saying in a statement that the move would help build trust with Nashville residents.
“While this important policy change won’t solve all of the immigration concerns in Nashville,” Mendes wrote, “today, we can celebrate our city’s commitment to focus first and foremost on the work of local government and making Nashville a safer place for our neighbors.”
In 2017, Mendes co-sponsored a bill (BL2017-743) that tried, and failed, to terminate the county’s contract with ICE. The councilman was preparing to introduce another round of legislation with the same goal this session, but said he no longer needs to.
Not everyone supported the sheriff’s announcement. U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty tweeted that the sheriff’s office was “encouraging illegal immigration and lawlessness,” adding, “They should work with ICE, not against them to keep our communities safe.”
The Davidson County Sheriff’s Office is encouraging illegal immigration and lawlessness. They should work with ICE, not against them to keep our communities safe.
Once again, Nashville is one step closer to being a sanctuary city.— Bill Hagerty (@BillHagertyTN) October 29, 2019
But, in his statement, Sheriff Hall challenged anyone who doubted his office’s immigration policies.
“Taking into consideration our important public safety role and our goal of being community-minded, we have always worked to see our policies evolve accordingly. This approach hasn’t always been popular, but responsible,” he said. “We will now move forward, continuing to focus on significant issues such as decriminalization of mental illness and criminal justice reform.”
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.