Cobb takes steps to enforce immigration laws
By Amanda Casciaro, Marietta Daily Journal, October 25, 2006
Cobb takes steps to enforce immigration laws
By Amanda Casciaro
Marietta Daily Journal Staff Writer
MARIETTA - For nine days this year, John Litland volunteered at his own expense as a minuteman patrolling the U.S.-Mexican border in Hachita, N.M.
Along with U.S. citizens from Wisconsin, Washington, California and a handful of other states, Litland reported instances of suspicious activity to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who line the border.
"We were there to fill the gap where our federal government has failed," Litland said.
The Marietta native, along with east Cobb activist D.A. King and about 50 supporters, gathered Tuesday before the Cobb Board of Commissioners meeting to urge implementation of a federal law that has been on the books for 10 years.
Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren addressed commissioners during the meeting, asking for a Memorandum of Understanding with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to speed implementation of 287G, a program to check the legal status of any inmate who enters the county jail.
Along with a boom in Cobb's Hispanic population in the past 10 years have come millions of illegal aliens, King said, and federal and local governments have turned a blind eye to it - until now.
Cobb County is the first in Georgia to sign the agreement with the federal government, despite it already being law.
"Here's my agenda," King said. "I want our borders secured as it's required by the U.S. Constitution. I want American law equally applied. I want English to be the common language that binds our very diverse nation together, and I don't care who knows it."
Because of what has been described as a "failure" by the federal government, King has spent five years researching how county commissions and city councils can take control of the issue.
Warren has done the same by working with immigration and customs agents since 1998.
The solution for both, of course, is baby steps, and King said the first action should be to implement a basic pilot program provided by the federal government for employers to check the status of those who seek work in the United States.
As of Monday, the program took effect in Cobb, Cobb Commission Chairman Sam Olens said.
"I see us complying with state and federal law. We're proactively following the law," Olens said. "It makes no difference if it's a county in Maine, where the perception is they have virtually no illegal immigrants, or Cobb County. We need to follow the law."
Enforcement long overdue
Implementation of 287G, a section of the 1996 Immigration and National Act the U.S. Senate passed, has been under review by Warren for several years.
The 10-year-old law provides four- to six-week training periods for law enforcement agents by the federal government so officers will know how to handle illegal immigrants they encounter during day-to-day duties.
"In August of this year, the sheriff's office officially petitioned ICE for authorization to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding to enforce federal immigration statutes pursuant to Section 287G," Warren told commissioners Tuesday. "Once this petition is approved, deputies at the jail will be trained to interview inmates who are foreign nationals to determine whether they are in the country illegally.
"If they are determined to be here illegally, deputies will initiate deportation proceedings. Once removal is authorized by a federal court and any local sentence completed, the inmates will be deported by ICE."
Implementation is the first step, King said, but why has it taken Cobb so long?
"Mecklenburg, N.C., has had the 287G program in place since April," King said. "Since April, they've made 657 cases for deportation. That does two things: It gets about 650 illegal aliens off the streets and sends a message that this is not a welcome county for illegal immigrants."
The pilot program provides a database to search employment status of any potential county employee and those used by contract companies that work for the county.
"You have to start somewhere, and the fact that we're not presently using these federal tools is very counterproductive," King said.
The Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements program also is necessary to ensure illegal aliens cannot take advantage of taxpayer-funded services, King said, such as government housing and Medicaid.
After public comment from King at last month's Cobb commission meeting, Olens said Cobb would explore federal Community Development Block Grants to implement the program.
As of Monday, county officials have alerted Cobb organizations that distribute federal money that the alien verification program must be used.
At the same time, Olens said, Cobb has to work with the Hispanic community to get credible, legal citizens involved with the government process.
Earlier this month, the Atlanta Regional Commission honored Cobb with a Community Building and Involvement Award for its Hispanic-Latino Initiative aimed at getting the Hispanic and Latino population involved.
Just 'a beginning'
Others who attended Tuesday's evening rally, such as Church Road resident Mary Kirkendoll, agree there's nothing wrong with legal immigration. The illegal aliens, she said, have "destroyed" her neighborhood and the quality of life that once existed there.
Ms. Kirkendoll said Cobb's "laissez-faire" attitude has led to a detriment of the county as a whole.
"All the enforcement issues, the basic pilot program, all that is great, but it's a very small step in the right direction," Ms. Kirkendoll said. "No matter if they do that and sign all that into effect, it doesn't change anything about who's living in the communities. I want to see code enforcement start addressing the real issues, that these houses are being used improperly."
In February 2005, a methamphetamine super lab was discovered at the home "next door" to Ms. Kirkendoll, which was the final straw of years filled with overcrowded rental housing, poorly maintained homes and even a drug cartel accused of distributing about 500 pounds of marijuana in another nearby home.
"As far as I can see, I think it's a beginning," Ms. Kirkendoll said. "I do believe (Cobb commissioners) are waking up. Nobody ever really wants to deal with stuff when life has been really good to them. They didn't want to deal with this stuff, but they're going to have to."
According to Olens, county governments have to do something.
But with federal constraints, there is only so much that county and municipal governments can do.
"The truth of the matter is the federal government needs to step up to the plate and do its job, and it's a result of the federal government not doing its job that has caused local government to deal with these issues," Olens said. "I support (Warren on 287G), but it shouldn't be necessary to take this action. The feds should already be doing it."
An 'educational issue'
Despite cold weather, King and other illegal immigration opponents gathered on the Marietta Square, carrying signs emblazoned with messages such as "No more amnesty! Remember 1986!" in reference to the Reagan administration's blanket amnesty action.
Once man carried a sign displaying the identification card of Mohammad Atta, the famed lead hijacker in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Others waved American flags, and signs discouraging "Georgiafornia," in reference to California's high number of illegal immigrants.
As cars passing by honked in support of protesters, King said it's important to note that regardless of how many people showed up for the rally, their message is not one of hate.
"If somebody who insists that illegal immigration is a problem or that our borders should be enforced, are they racist?" King said. "Is the entire government of Mexico racist? In Mexico, it's a felony to be in the country illegally.
"Mexico enforces its laws; is Mexico, as a nation, racist? It's not that difficult an argument to overcome. This is an educational issue."
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