Illegal Immigration: Hands Tied For Morristown Police

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Hamblen County (WVLT) -- It's a federal program designed to help local police deal with the growing problem of illegal immigration.

It may sound perfect for a place like Morristown, where over the last few years there has been an explosion of growth in the illegal population.

But for the largest town between Knoxville and the Tri-Cities, it's not going to happen.

The reason?

Morristown leaders want local police to have the power to enforce immigration laws themselves; something the federal government thinks would overwhelm the system.

There is a sign on the edge of town that welcomes all, but some in Morristown have heard of signs of a different kind in some towns nearly a thousand of miles away.

"I have heard certain rumors, I am not sure if they are true or not, that there are signs in Mexico saying 'Come to Morristown, Tennessee'," said resident Terry Long. "I guess that's possible."

Trains may come and go through town, but illegal immigration is proving to be a locomotive with a full head of steam.

There are no census number to back it up, but in Hamblen County, the Hispanic population is estimated at between 12 and 20 percent.

"If I were in their situation, I would be doing the same thing to provide for my family," said Rob Walters, another Morristown resident, "but illegal immigration is illegal and it has to be dealt with at some point."

To some, it seems that dealing with it would be easier if local officers were given the power to enforce immigration laws.

That was the reason the city wanted to train two officers to start the deportation process for accused criminals without having to rely on overworked federal agents.

In outlining why Morristown would not be a part of the program, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office said that the regional immigration office in Knoxville was not equipped to handle transportation of more detained illegals than they currently experience.

Further, the immigration office said it does not have manpower to supervise local officers.

According to Morristown's police chief, whether there is a program or not, there is only so much that the police can do.

"If you are driving down the road, I can not legally stop you to see if you have legal residence status in the United States," said Chief Roger Overholt.

The chief also said he has been told that the policy remains the same; police should still contact federal immigration agents when they make arrests of illegals, even if they will probably not be deported.

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