Faith communities stand with immigrants in Knox County

Religious leaders in Knox County are relieved after the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) rejected the County Sheriff's application for a controversial 287(g) immigration program. Opponents, including many faith leaders and  immigrant rights advocates, worried the program would lead to racial profiling in the county.

The 287(g) program would have allowed the sheriff's department to enforce immigration laws on behalf of ICE, and would allow them to detain immigrants without proof of citizenship. This program mirrors the county's existing "Secured Communities" program, only that program uses fingerprints to determine citizenship rather than leave the burden of proof onto the detainee.

Knox County sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones ignored repeated requests from the community to reevaluate the need for program. He and department applied with voluminous opposition, including from faith leaders across the region.

Susan Montgomery, a lay leader in the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church, and at Concord United Methodist Church authored an open letter opposing the program, according to the Rev. Jim Sessions, who serves on IWJ's Board of Directors.

He added more than 40 local Knox County religious leaders signed the open letter, and n additional 140 religious leaders from Eastern Tennessee supported it.

"We had vigils in both cases and delivered letters to everybody: Mayors, City Council members, County Commissioners, Senators, Congresspeople, and officials at DOJ, DHS, ICE, and our President in Washington," he said. "A public forum was organized with around 200 people who spoke one after another for more than two hours to the Sheriff. They unanimously opposed the 287g. The only time the Sheriff appeared in public to listen (and then ignore)."

ICE rejected the county's participation in the program in late August.