Immigration arrest at Nashville courthouse latest in national trend
Veronica Zavaleta moved to Nashville from Mexico 15 years ago and since the election has taken precautions to protect her family, including installing five security cameras. She spoke at her home in Nashville in late May. Andrew Nelles / USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement(Photo: Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via AP)
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers appeared at a Nashville courthouse Thursday to arrest an immigrant for deportation. The action could signal a return to a time when federal immigration authorities had more of a presence in Nashville’s courthouse and follows President Donald Trump’s sweeping enforcement plan. Nationally, ICE arrests are up 38 percent, according to the federal agency. Immigrants have expressed fear about the plan, and advocates say Thursday’s courthouse arrest only furthers that.
Faustino Rodriguez Hernandez was set to appear before General Sessions Judge Lynda Jones related to a driving without a license charge, according to court records. While he was at the courthouse, an ICE agent arrived and took Hernandez into custody, according to Jones. Jones said in an email that “an officer” previously called her secretary to notify the court he would pick up the 33-year-old man but did not identify himself as an ICE agent.
“The officer was vague but we have no reason to believe he was being deceptive when he called on June 6th or June 7th,” Jones said. “He contacted my office stating that there was a defendant on my June 8th docket that had a warrant out for his arrest.”
Jones’ staffers presumed it was a warrant signed by a judge, which often are served on defendants at the courthouse.
“We receive a daily report from the MNPD for outstanding bench warrants,” the judge said.
But the ICE warrant shown to a courtroom security guard was not a criminal warrant signed by a judge. Assistant Public Defender Mary Kathryn Harcombe, who specializes in immigration issues and raised concern to Jones about the case on Thursday, said court employees typically don’t understand the distinction.
“A warrant under the Fourth Amendment has to be approved by a judge or a neutral magistrate,” Harcombe said.
An ICE warrant confers power to an ICE agent to detain a person. It does not give that power to anybody else. Court officers cannot detain a person based on an ICE warrant. Jones said that while she was out of the room, the security guard handed the man over to ICE.
“I am unsure why he did it before the public defender and judge returned to the court room,” she said. Jones said she is looking into whether courthouse staff held the man for the federal immigration agent.
The judge said she plans to change court procedure on ICE detainer requests.
I think this highlights the need for clear policy and for education for our local judges and local law enforcement so that they can make an educated decision about how to handle requests from federal immigration,” Harcombe said. When the immigrant community believes there is an ICE presence in the courthouse, they are discouraged from showing up to court, she said. Hernandez has been charged eight times for not having a driver’s license since 2004, according to court records.
Proof of U.S. citizenship or legal residence is required for Tennesseans who wish to obtain a driver’s license or state ID.
It was not immediately clear whether he had charges outside Davidson County, and an ICE spokesperson said he was looking into the matter.
The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition said the case shows even minor citations can be a pipeline to deportation. The advocacy organization called again for the Metro Council to pass two pieces of legislation that would implement some sanctuary city-like policies in Nashville.
“Metro employees need clarity on what to do when ICE asks for them to hold people and help carry out deportations,” TIRRC Policy Manager Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus said. “… The federal government needs to know that our city won’t allow them to hijack local institutions, eroding trust and support, to help ICE separate Nashville families.”
One bill includes language that would bar the courthouse from using its facilities to enforce federal immigration laws or to share a person’s court dates, unless ordered by a judicial warrant.
When that bill was first filed, Mayor Megan Barry said the proposed ordinance “simply reaffirms our current practice of not engaging in immigration enforcement activities.”
Hernandez is being held in the Davidson County jail without bond as an ICE inmate.
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- ^ President Donald Trump’s sweeping enforcement plan (www.tennessean.com)
- ^ ICE arrests are up 38 percent (www.tennessean.com)
- ^ expressed fear (www.tennessean.com)
- ^ Nashville immigrants live in fear, make plans for deportation (www.tennessean.com)
- ^ How traffic stops lead to deportation for some Nashville immigrants (www.tennessean.com)
- ^ sanctuary city-like policies (www.tennessean.com)
- ^ Nashville to consider ‘sanctuary city’-type policies as immigration debate rages (www.tennessean.com)
- ^ @a_maia_sawyer (twitter.com)
- ^ @sbarchenger (twitter.com)