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VOL. 133 | NO. 102 | Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Sheriff's Office Seeks Legal Review of New State Law on Immigration

By Bill Dries

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Outgoing Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham said Monday, May 21, he will rely on the county attorney’s office for any changes in how sheriff’s deputies and jailers deal with immigrants when a new state law takes effect in 2019.

Oldham made the announcement the same day Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said he would let an immigration bill approved this year by the state Legislature become law without his signature. 

Haslam said while he has problems with the legislation, ultimately he didn’t think it would change the way local law enforcement across the state deals with immigrants. He also said those supporting and opposing the bill have blown its effect out of proportion.

For the sheriff’s office, it deals with deputies who serve warrants and patrol areas outside of Memphis and most, but not all of the suburban towns and cities within Shelby County. It also deals with those arrested and taken to the Shelby County Jail pending trial or release on bond. The jail is the responsibility of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.

“The jail asks each inmate about country of origin /citizenship status, pursuant to the law in effect now but does not detain anyone based on citizenship status on behalf of ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement),” SCSO spokesman Earle Farrell said in a written statement Monday evening. “Governor Haslam is quoted as saying that this law does not require law enforcement agencies to serve as immigration enforcement officials or to make arrests based on immigration status. Sheriff’s deputies do not question people about their citizenship status nor do they enforce any laws governing such status.”

Those policies came into question last month when Manuel Duran, a local journalist, was arrested outside the Criminal Justice Center while covering an MLK50 protest there.

Duran was arrested by Memphis Police on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and blocking a roadway.

Manuel Duran

The Shelby County District Attorney General’s office dropped the charges when the case reached court. ICE agents were waiting outside the courtroom and detained Duran for being an undocumented immigrant.

A protester jailed with Duran said he saw Duran’s arrest paperwork while they were in custody and the paperwork included a notation to hold Duran for ICE agents.

Duran is in custody at a federal detention center in Jena, Louisiana. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit last month in Louisiana federal court seeking Duran’s release and claiming he was targeted by Memphis Police because he was critical of how law enforcement was enforcing federal immigration laws.

Memphis Police director Michael Rallings emphatically denied that there was any targeting of Duran by his department and denied his department placed any kind of hold on Duran for ICE while he was in the jail. 

Rallings pointed out that the sheriff’s office runs the jail, not police.

Interpretation of the new state law will be carried out by the winner of the August county general election for sheriff between Democratic nominee Floyd Bonner and Republican nominee Dale Lane. Both contenders have experience with the current policy of the sheriff’s office on immigration matters.

Bonner is currently chief deputy of the sheriff’s office. Lane is director of the county office of preparedness and a former supervisor with the sheriff’s office.

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