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Sheriff: Word is out there about new immigration program

POSTED: May 5, 2008 5:00 a.m.

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The message, authorities say, is apparently getting out.

In the nearly three weeks since Hall County sheriff’s officials began a new partnership with federal authorities to identify accused lawbreakers who are in the country illegally, there has been a marked decrease in the number of foreign-born arrestees, officials said.

Meanwhile, 139 people booked into the jail have been interviewed in connection with the 287(g) program, 111 had immigration holds placed on them, and 45 have been picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents for possible deportation.

According to jail statistics provided by the sheriff’s office, of the 967 people in the Hall County Jail, 259, or 38 percent, are foreign-born. Of the 269 people of Hispanic ethnicity in the jail, 184 have immigration detainers placed on them, officials said. Immigration agents placed some of those detainers before the 287(g) program started.

Since the new program started April 4, there have been 778 people brought to the jail. The new, routine immigration checks being conducted during booking revealed those arrestees were from the United States and 18 other countries.

Cronic said word appears to be getting out about 287(g) and its implications for illegal immigrants who are arrested.

"We’ve seen a reduction in the number of immigrants that are committing crimes and being booked through (the program), which is a positive thing, and something we hoped the program would do," Cronic said.

Cronic said some people have misinterpreted 287(g) as a program in which the sheriff’s office deports illegal immigrants. The partnership allows deputies to determine whether detainees are in the country illegally.

"All we’re doing is processing and referring them to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement service, where they still have their due process, and that determination is made by the immigration officials," Cronic said. "I think some people thought we had the authority to do actual deportations, and we do not."

Cronic said immigration officials have been quick to pick up detainees so far. Federal authorities have 72 hours to take custody of illegal immigrants processed through the program or begin paying the jail a daily fee to hold them.

"It’s been a good partnership," Cronic said.

Some issues remain to be firmed up regarding which inmates will be turned over to immigration and which will be kept in Hall County to have their criminal charges adjudicated in local courts. Sheriff’s officials have been in discussions with the county’s judges and prosecutors about how those decisions will be made, jail commander Capt. Danny Woods said.

In general, inmates charged with felony-level violent crimes and sex offenses in which there were identified victims will remain in the jail while their court cases are pending, Woods said.

So far, no one who had a pending felony charge has been turned over to immigration, Woods said.

Cronic said he’s pleased with the program in the early going.

"We’ll just have to monitor it as it moves forward and hope things continue the way they are," he said.



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