New Illegal Immigration Bill May Add To Sheriff's Burden

KEVIN HALPERN, Courier Co-Editor

A bill recently passed by the Tennessee General Assembly may add to the burden of the Cannon County Sheriff's Department and, by extension, the taxpayers of Cannon County if signed into law by Governor Phil Bredesen.

The proposed law requires Tennessee jailers to determine whether inmates are in the country illegally.

It would require jailers to provide information if a person's citizenship status cannot be determined from documents in the individual's possession when arrested or if the person is illegally in the country.

Tennessee jails would send the information to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement office (ICE). The bill, Senate Bill 1141, sponsored by Senator Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), requires the jail keeper to fax, email or send a copy of the booking information.

"This legislation simply makes sure that ICE and Homeland Security are informed regarding anyone who has been booked into Tennessee jails who are in the U.S. illegally," said Senator Gresham. "I am very pleased this bill has been approved."

Cannon County Sheriff Billy Nichols said he is not opposed to his department performing the requirements set forth in the bill, he is only concerned that it may cost taxpayers extra money if it is signed into law.

"They (state lawmakers) create these laws but they don't give us any funds to enforce them," Nichols said. "The burden then falls on the taxpayers of the individual counties."

Nichols said his department has handled only a small number (four to five) of illegal immigrants the past few years, so processing them through the system has not been a problem. He said if Bredesen signs the bill into law the department may need to hire additional workers to process the additional paperwork and purchase new computers and software.

The legislation calls for statewide standards to be developed by the POST (Police Officers Standard Training) Commission. This provision helps to ensure that Tennessee will not be open to lawsuits that have been problematic in other localities with similar laws.

The bill does not apply to any county or municipality that enters into a memorandum of understanding with the United States Department of Homeland Security or ICE concerning enforcement of federal immigration laws, which has more stringent standards.

If signed by the governor, the new law will go into effect Jan. 1, 2011.