Criticism of Gwinnett deportation ‘surge’ grows
By ANDRIA SIMMONS
The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionMonday, January 12, 2009
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A nonprofit coalition called Georgia Detention Watch on Monday joined a growing chorus of disapproval over a program to deport illegal immigrants in the Gwinnett County jail.
Other organizations such as Atlantans Building Leadership for Empowerment and the Concerned Black Clergy have also voiced opposition to federal immigration officials’ 26-day “surge,” which began Monday at the county detention center.
The surge is expected to help the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) figure out how many inmates would be handed over from Gwinnett, should the county be allowed to participate in a program that trains local jailers to begin deportation paperwork.
Cobb, Whitfield and Hall counties are already participating in similar cooperative agreements with ICE, as is the Georgia State Patrol.
A press release issued by Georgia Detention Watch said it “condemns in the strongest terms this effort of expulsion of immigrants, many of whom are hard-working members of our communities.” Georgia Detention Watch bills itself as a coalition that includes activists, community organizers, persons of faith and lawyers.
“We believe local enforcement of federal immigration laws leads to racial profiling as well as erosion of trust between immigrant communities and the police, making our communities less safe,” the press release said.
Last year the Atlanta Field Office of ICE, which covers Georgia and the Carolinas, conducted six similar surges in local jails. They are essentially periods of intensified scrutiny over inmates’ immigration status, according to its spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez. Typically, federal immigration officials only screen foreign-born inmates, but during the surge every inmate will be screened.
Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway said the program doesn’t violate human rights or constitute racial profiling. He pointed out that it targets people who have been arrested for a crime.
Those who are here illegally are not immigrants, as this group claims,” Conway said. “An immigrant is someone who has entered the United States legally and has nothing to fear.”
Jail officials estimate that about 60 percent of the 14,084 foreign nationals that were booked into the Gwinnett jail in 2008 were here illegally. Conway says his constituents have clearly communicated they want Gwinnett to participate in the ICE program.
Louise Stewart, who lives in the Norcross area, is one of them.
“I have absolutely nothing against immigrants if they come here and obey the law the way they are supposed to,” Stewart said.
“I know a lot of them are wonderful people. But I think when a person sneaks into the country and they know they can get away with breaking such a big law, they think maybe the other laws here aren’t enforced either. So they break the law.”