NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The sheriff in Tennessee's largest city says his office will stop contracting to house detained immigrants for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Dec. 1, calling the issue a distraction.
"The continued confusion and hyper-political nature of this issue has become a distraction from sheriff's office priorities," Hall said in a news release. "The number of individuals detained as a result of this contract is less than one percent of overall jail bookings; however, I spend an inordinate amount of my time debating its validity."
Immigrant rights advocates cheered the move for the liberal-leaning Southern city in a Republican-led state.
"Under the contract, ICE was allowed to use our jail as a temporary dumping ground for anyone they detain with potential civil immigration violations," said Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, policy director for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. "While ending this agreement will not completely prevent the jail from holding people for ICE, it is one step towards drawing a brighter line between federal immigration and local law enforcement."
Hall's office says Nashville's government has received revenue since 1996 through a council-approved contract to house federal detainees, including ICE detainees. The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition says the contract had not been reviewed in 23 years.
Hall's office is negotiating with the U.S. Marshals Service to remove ICE from that contract, but it will still house U.S. Marshals' detainees under a renewed council-approved agreement.
The sheriff said he reached his decision after talking with advocates, councilmembers, newly installed Mayor John Cooper and others.
ICE leaders are seeking more information from Hall's office on his plans, said ICE spokesman Bryan Cox.
Nashville's immigrant community, meanwhile, is still waiting for clarity on an incident publicized earlier this month in which Nashville's school district initially said "immigration officials" showed up at an elementary school, tried to get student records, and were turned away.
In a sharp rebuke, an ICE spokesman responded that there's no evidence that ever happened, saying ICE generally doesn't conduct immigration enforcement at schools.
The school district then recast its statement, describing the incident as "two men in official-looking uniforms" ''stating that they were government agents" with "official-looking IDs" who "had a list of student names and demanded those students' records."
Last month, an ICE agent shot a Mexican man who was fleeing a traffic stop and, according to ICE, attempted to run over the agent. The man was charged with illegal reentry after four previous deportations.
And in July, an immigration agent gave up trying to arrest a Tennessee man who, aided by neighbors, refused to leave his vehicle with his 12-year-old son for four hours.
Immigration issues have put Nashville at odds with Republican state leaders, who passed a law that threatens to withhold some state funding from local governments if they adopt so-called sanctuary policies that restrict compliance with federal immigration requests.
Former Mayor David Briley entered an order criticizing that law and discouraging cooperation with immigration officials during his reelection homestretch. Cooper defeated Briley, set up an immigration task force and quickly rescinded his predecessor's order, saying it provided "insufficient clarity." Cooper's office also said the state had threatened to withhold more than $1.1 million from Nashville because of Briley's order.
Republican Gov. Bill Lee told reporters Tuesday his understanding is that with Nashville ending the ICE-related agreement, "ICE's ability to operate in that county will not be changed," despite a difference in where people are detained.
Adrian Sainz in Memphis contributed to this report.