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Tennessee Sheriff Ready To Stack Undocumented Immigrants In Jail 'Like Cordwood'

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Knox County Sheriff Jimmy
Knox County Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones listens to a a Knox County Commission meeting on May 23, 2011. (Saul Young/News Sentinel)

WASHINGTON -- A Tennessee sheriff is so outraged that the federal government won't authorize his police force to enforce federal immigration laws that he's ready to take it out on undocumented immigrants.

"If need be, I will stack these violators like cordwood in the Knox County Jail until the appropriate federal agency responds," Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones said in a statement on Wednesday.

Jones had applied for the controversial 287(g) program, which trains local police deputies to check the immigration status of people who are arrested and enforce federal immigration laws when warranted. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told Jones that due to budget constraints, it didn't have the resources to train new officers in the program.

Jones rejected that explanation in his Wednesday statement.

"Once again, the federal government has used sequestration as a smokescreen to shirk its responsibilities for providing safety and security to its citizens by denying Knox County the 287(g) corrections model. An inept administration is clearing the way for law breaking illegal immigrants to continue to thrive in our community and ultimately be allowed to reside in the United States."

Proposed funding cuts to 287(g) had already begun when sequestration hit. The program is being phased out as ICE expands Secure Communities, which allows immigration officials to detect undocumented immigrants through fingerprints taken by local law enforcement. ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen told HuffPost that the agency is "limiting 287(g) participation to law enforcement agencies with existing" memorandums of understanding, but it is still working with local officials through separate programs.

Other jurisdictions have been stripped of their ability to participate in the 287(g) program as well. ICE announced in 2011 that Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office would no longer be allowed to take part after a Justice Department report revealed that he had discriminated against Latinos.

The image of bodies stacked "like cordwood" hits a particular nerve, since it's often been used to describe how bodies were stacked during atrocities like the Holocaust or the slave trade.

"Sheriff Jones has publicly vowed to break the law and unconstitutionally detain immigrants in his jail," Eben Cathey, communications coordinator for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, told The Huffington Post in response to Jones' comments. "What part of illegal does he not understand?"

Cathey has also started a MoveOn.org petition calling on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to launch a civil rights investigation into Jones' performance.

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