KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones spoke for the first time Wednesday since his renewed push to take part in the 287(g) program.
The 287(g) program is a partnership that allows local officers to serve some of the functions of federal immigration agents.
This all comes at a time when immigration policies and priorities are in the headlines with a new administration in Washington feeling a mandate from voters to take action on border security.
“If you’re here illegally, and you’re a law abiding citizen, you’ll never know 287(g) exists,” said Jones as he went public for the first time with his application for 287(g) in Knox County.
“We reapplied in February of this year once President Trump initiated the order that put 287(g) back into effect,” Jones said.
The sheriff says there’s a money-saving aspect for the taxpayers, speeding up the time it takes for a decision on starting the deportation process.
“We were probably keeping them like 30-40 days in our jail before ICE made that determination,” Jones said. “Those 30-40 days cost tax payers $100 a day.”
Sheriff Jones says if 287(g) were implemented, the answer could come within 48 hours, but Meghan Conley with Allies of Knoxville’s Immigrant Neighbors sees a different side, with fears of racial profiling.
“People are deeply concerned I get phone calls I get emails I get texts all the time, people are worried about check points,” said Conley.
Conley says some people are afraid if they ever need to call law enforcement, they will be more concerned about their immigration status than the reason officers were called in the first place. She remembers what Jones said when this issue came up in 2013.
Related story: Groups protest Knox County sheriff’s ICE application
“He’s on record as saying he would stack these violators like cordwood in the county jail… that’s violent imagery,” says Conley.
“And there again, that was a colloquialism that’s been used. My father’s used that, ‘Stack ’em like cordwood,’ all my life,” said Jones. “That was not meant to be derogatory or racist in any matter.”
When asked to clarify that his intentions with this program are not to profile Knox County residents Jones said, “Absolutely not and never have and never will.”
The sheriff sent this message to those with concerns over federally funded program: “I hear your concerns, I know what they are, I will make sure of that… I promise that I will stay on top of it and I won’t let things happen and get out of hand like they have in other places.”
As for the next steps in the application, those are in the hands of the Department of Homeland Security. The sheriff’s last application for 287(g) made it as far as a site visit, the sheriff has not made it to that point yet.
Jones pursuing Knox County mayoral run
“I do think I can help the county. I’ve been a public servant all my life and I want to continue to do that,” said Jones.
Jones says he would be doing that by transitioning from Knox County sheriff to Knox County mayor in 2018.
“I think this job is a lot like the mayor’s job, just on a smaller scale,” he said.
Comparing his $80 million a year budget, being second largest in the county, to the mayor’s $800 million budget, he sees a correlation in management and teamwork.
“I think that I’ve worked for Knox County my entire adult life. I know the ins and outs, people know me, people trust me. I think that’s what they’re looking for. I think they’re looking for some stability.”
Being a product himself of public education, if he were to become mayor, Jones says his top two places to look at where more funding could be used are education and public safety.
“I think we have kids who graduate from college now who have tremendous debt – have a degree that there’s no job actually for – and we tell them they’re going to make a great living when in fact it’s not,” said Jones.
He wants to rally for more vocational training in every school across Knox County, but Jones says to make that happen, he doesn’t think taxes will need to be raised. He credits current Mayor Tim Burchett for leaving office with a surplus of leftover money in the budget.
“When somebody comes into office there’s a lot of things that you have to do to make things better. He’s pretty much set it up now that all we’ll have to do is take the reins and go,” said Jones. I’ve never been a politician. Sometimes I do and say things that aren’t politically correct, but I do that because I think that’s the right thing to do.”
Jones joins two others who have officially announced their plans to run for Knox County mayor: current County Commissioner Bob Thomas and insurance owner and professional wrestler Glenn Jacobs.