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Sheriff: Deportations down in Hall County

Cronic tells Latino conference his force avoids profiling

POSTED: February 21, 2009 11:44 p.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic addresses the Georgia Latino Forum on Saturday at Gainesville State College.

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OAKWOOD — The number of illegal immigrants detained through a local-federal immigration enforcement program has seen a marked decrease since it began last April, Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic said Saturday at a conference on Latinos.

Cronic, speaking to the third annual Meeting and Conference of the Georgia Latino Forum, did not cite specific numbers, but said fewer inmates booked into the Hall County jail are being turned over to federal immigration officials for deportation proceedings since Hall County’s 287(g) partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement began.

The program allows designated Hall County jailers and some drug and gang investigators to check the immigration status of arrestees and process those in the country illegally for deportation proceedings.

The program drew fire from some Latino legal advocates earlier in Saturday’s conference, but Cronic faced few pointed questions from an audience of less than 20 at the close of the forum. Some of the harshest critics of 287(g) had left the conference at Gainesville State College before Cronic and Gainesville Police Capt. Paul Sherman spoke to the group.

Maria Odom, an immigration lawyer and former Justice Department prosecutor, said during a panel discussion earlier in the day that 287(g) opened the door for ethnic profiling. Odom referred to Latinos detained under the program in place in Cobb County, one of a handful of sheriff’s offices in Georgia to enter a 287(g) agreement with ICE.

“The initial goal of 287(g) was the apprehension of criminal aliens who pose a threat to our community,” Odom said. “It sounds good in theory, but it has created chaos in our communities.”

Cronic, speaking later in the day, said his agency operates under strict rules concerning “biased-based profiling” and documents the race or ethnicity of every person who is stopped, whether they are arrested, ticketed or released with a warning.

Both Hall County and the Gainesville Police Department also follow more than 400 standards set by the national Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies, Sherman noted.

Only 12 percent of the contacts made by deputies in 2008 involved Hispanics, Cronic said. In 2007, Hispanics comprised 15 percent of all contacts made with sheriff’s officials. Sherman said the Gainesville police department’s breakdown of traffic stops reflected the ethnic makeup of the city’s population.

The Latino population in Hall County has been estimated as high as 25 percent.

Cronic said the decrease in immigration detainees may be a result of a sour economy that has caused some to leave the area, and some may be learning to stay out of trouble to avoid deportation. The decrease is not from any change in sheriff’s policies, he said.

Cronic said his department conducts road checks in the most problematic, high-crash areas, not in areas where deputies can write the most tickets or make the most arrests.

In starting the 287(g) program, “I did not want to see a spike in (law enforcement) activity in the Hispanic community,” Cronic said.

Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, asked Cronic whether 287(g) generated revenue for the sheriff’s office. Federal officials must pay local jails to house immigration detainees who are not picked up by ICE within 72 hours.
Cronic said that, to his surprise, ICE was meeting that deadline.

Gonzalez also asked if the program was diverting resources from other, “core missions” of law enforcement.

Sherman noted that 287(g) is largely a jail program run by the sheriff’s detention officers who process inmates.

“Our officers don’t know what 287(g) is, they don’t care what 287(g) is,” Sherman said. “Their job is to enforce state statutes and local ordinances. The core mission is still responding to calls for service.”

Cronic said his office is responsive to complaints and doesn’t ask for the backgrounds of the people making them.

“The thing that’s impossible for us to deal with is generalizations,” Cronic said. “Any time there is an issue, we take it very seriously.”

Gonzalez said Cronic and Sherman deserved credit for speaking to the forum, saying Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren, another proponent of 287(g), “is not interested in meeting with the Latino community.”



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