MORRISTOWN — About 30 federal and local law enforcement officials tried to understand each others’ responsibilities — while also airing frustrations — about dealing with illegal immigration during a roundtable talk on Friday.
U.S. Rep. David Davis hosted the event with officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Morristown City Center in Hamblen County — an illegal immigration flash point in Tennessee.
“There are more illegals in Hamblen County than anywhere else in the world, not just Tennessee or America,” Davis, R-1st District, claimed. “A person who came here illegally 20 years ago started an employment agency. He had billboards south of the (Mexican) border saying ‘If you want to make it in America, come to Morristown, Tenn.’ Now there are generations of people putting a burden on the education system, health system and corrections system. People here aren’t racist, but they are concerned about the rule of law.”
ICE officials explained their abilities to deal with illegal immigration and to show law enforcement officials what they could do to help with enforcement.
While illegal immigration has been viewed strictly as a federal responsibility, federal law now gives state and local law enforcement agencies a broadened scope of authority.
Davis, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said local law enforcement has the legal authority to “investigate, detain and arrest” aliens on civil and criminal grounds.
ICE officials said non-U.S. citizens are picked up for everything from cash smuggling to human trafficking.
But Sullivan County General Sessions Court Judge J. Klyne Lauderback suggested federal officials don’t have the manpower to pick up many illegal immigrants who are arrested and detained in local jails.
“Most of them are DUI cases or have no driver’s license,” Lauderback said of the illegal immigrants who come through his court. “We have to let them go because there is no one to pick them up. ... If it’s a crime to be here illegally, so what’s the punishment?”
One ICE official noted America’s southern border with Mexico gets more federal manpower. “It’s a resource question,” he said.
Davis noted he has introduced legislation requiring the secretary of Homeland Security to reimburse a state or locality for costs that happen when law enforcement officers receive training related to border security and immigration enforcement functions.
Davis also said that legislation he is sponsoring with U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., would require employer/employee notification of Social Security number mismatches and information sharing with the Department of Homeland Security.
The bill, called the Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement or “SAVE” Act, would also prohibit employers from deducting wages paid to unauthorized aliens.
“If there weren’t jobs here, they wouldn’t be coming here,” the ICE official said.
According to ICE, more than 270,000 illegal aliens were removed from the United States last year, while about 27,000 were held in custody “on any given day.”
Davis, however, noted that “approximately 10,000 illegal immigrants cross our border” each day.
“Many wind up in East Tennessee, and if you do the math, about 830 illegal immigrants will illegally cross during today’s roundtable...” he said. “Estimates indicate that there are 100,000 to 150,000 illegal immigrants in Tennessee alone. That’s enough to fill up Bristol Motor Speedway.”
For more about ICE go to www.ice.gov.