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License to Deport in Gwinnett County, Georgia

Atlanta Latino, News Report, Judith Martnez, Translated by Elena Shore Posted: Nov 18, 2009

ATLANTA -- Without knowing exactly how the 287 (g) program works, Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway officially announced on Monday, Nov. 16 that the jail he runs is ready to deport an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 undocumented immigrants who have driven without a valid Georgia license, which is classified as a crime in the state.

Conway did not respond to questions about the exact deportation proceedings when someone goes to jail, but he emphasized that he took the oath to enforce the laws and that is what he will do.

He asserted that they would only review the immigration status of those who have been arrested and put in jail, and that they will not ask people on the streets or county residents about their immigration status.

According to Conway, the 287 (g) program will save his prison $7 million a year because the prisoners will be deported in about 48 hours.

The sheriff estimates that of the 2,600 prisoners at the Gwinnett jail, 800 are foreign nationals.

Stacey Bourbonnais, spokesperson for the Gwinnett Countys Sheriffs Department, said that 18 officials have been trained to implement the 287 (g) program.

She anticipated that this week, they would start to investigate prisoners records and officials would familiarize themselves with the computer equipment.

The agreement between ICE and Gwinnett County was part of a national plan to expand the 287 (g) to another 66 public agencies. ICE spokesperson Nicole Navas said the program will last for three years from Oct. 16, when it was signed, unless either party decides to terminate it sooner.

Where Does the Money Come From?

Although the county is experiencing a difficult economic crisis, the Gwinnett Board of Commissioners approved $1 million for the implementation of the agreement in a public meeting on July 30.

"The county had the money saved in an account, but they were the only ones who knew the amount," said Bourbonnais. 

Meanwhile, Jose Perez, the only Latino member of the Engage Gwinnett commission, a volunteer group of county residents that advises authorities on the budget, said that one of the main concerns of the residents of Gwinnett County is security" and they would not hesitate when it comes to keeping the streets safe.

The 287 (g) agreement was presented to the public as a program that deports undocumented criminals.

"The goal of 287 (g) has been, since its implementation in 2006, to deport undocumented immigrants who have committed a serious crime, according to ICE. 

But the program has been used by some local law enforcement agencies to deport immigrants for misdemeanor offenses. This is the case in Cobb County, where there were a number of complaints documented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights that arrests and deportations were based on "racial profiling and minor traffic offenses.

During a telephonic press conference, John Morton, assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said that in order to avoid arrests based on skin color or appearance, ICE has implemented a system that requires the agency to authorize all arrests for violating immigration laws.

No detention will take place if we dont approve it, Morton said.

Gwinnett officially implemented the agreement this week, although a pilot program called CAP was in place at the beginning of the year, during which 914 people were deported. Of these, 226 committed the crime of driving without a license in Georgia, which is punishable by two days in jail. After the fourth conviction within five years, driving without a license in the state is considered a felony. 

Gwinnetts policy allows law enforcement officers working in the jail to identify which prisoners are undocumented immigrants and which are subject to deportation. This does not mean that any Gwinnett County police officer has the authority to investigate the immigration status of a driver before he or she goes to jail.

"Only 18 agents inside the prison know how to carry out the deportation process," said the ICE spokeswoman.

"With this model, officers are not authorized to carry out random raids," according to the 287 (g) memorandum. Local authorities must contact ICE to get approval for arrests.

People Subject to Deportation Through the 287 (g) Program Over One Year in Georgia, By County:

Hall 1,070

Whitfield 378

Cobb 2,585

Georgia Department of Public Safety 14

Data provided by ICE based on the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2009.

ICE spokesperson Nicole Navas clarified that these figures do not represent the total number of deportations.

"These people were identified through the 287 (g) program for violating immigration laws and classified as criminals. This doesnt mean that all of them have been deported since all of them except for fugitives -- have the right to appeal (due process) before a judge," said the spokeswoman, adding that ICE does not decide who gets deported.

"We (ICE) cant deport unless the judge there decides it," she said.

This article was compiled from two reports published Nov. 17, 2009 and Oct. 22, 2009 by Atlanta Latino.

Related Articles:

ICE to Cooperate with Another Georgia Sheriff

Drivers Fined for Not Speaking English

Law Enforcement Officials Call for Immigration Reform

ICE-Police Cooperation Expanded Despite Known Problems

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