From Sheriff's Deputies to Immigration Officers: Screening Immigrant Status in a Tennessee Jail


Amada Armenta, Institute for the Social Sciences, Cornell University, 348 Ives Hall East, Ithaca, NY, 14850, USA. Telephone: (607) 255-6629; E-mail:


This article contributes to emerging literature documenting the devolution of immigration enforcement authority by focusing on the implementation of the 287(g) program in Davidson County, Tennessee. It outlines how deputized immigration officers do their work as well as the ways they come to think about their roles in the larger immigration bureaucracy. Immigration officers see themselves as objective administrators whose primary responsibilities are to identify and process immigrants for removal, but who are not responsible for their subsequent deportation. While immigration officers never waiver about their obligation to uphold the rule of law, alternate narratives emerge depending on how they feel about the immigrants they encounter. These frames range from pride at identifying “criminal aliens” to guilt for processing immigrants who had been arrested for very minor violations. Ultimately, this work shows deputized immigration officers act as extensions of the federal government rather than as independent agents.