In a recent guest editorial, David Kennedy once again took aim at what he doesn't like. Namely anyone who would dare do anything to address the issue of illegal immigration in this country or in this community.
The content of the latest letter is the same but with every new offering his tone seems to be more mean-spirited and contains more personal attacks on those that would hold an opinion different from his own.
I normally would not respond to these types of attacks but, enough is enough. The citizens of Hall County and the readers of The Times deserve to know the truth about the 287(g) program, what the program is and what it is not.
To get the full understanding of the 287(g) program you must first understand the history behind how we came to participate. Looking back over several years, there was a time when the Immigration and Naturalization Service had three full time agents dedicated to Hall County. As time marched on, the INS saw the demands for their services skyrocket with a steady influx of immigrants, and particularly illegal immigrants.
With this influx, it became increasingly necessary for them to pull their officers who were assigned to this office and have them respond to other areas. This practice over time combined with the 9-11 attacks and reorganization of the INS, created the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency and left us, for the most part, with one full-time agent.
Now at this same time, Hall County is seeing a dramatic increase in our Hispanic population, both legal and illegally, and unfortunately we're also seeing an increase in Hispanic involvement in many of our areas of crime. Most alarming was in the areas which most consider our major quality of life issues, that being drugs, gangs and violent crime.
In fact, over a two- to three-year period, we saw illegal immigrants disproportionately involved in these areas. Examples included close to 90 percent of the volume of illegal drugs being brought in this community was being brought in from Mexico by illegal aliens. (This is not to say individual cases reflected 90 percent, but the actual volume of seizures.)
Our homicides during a two to three year period reflected one-third to one-half committed by illegal aliens. (In most of these cases the victims were also in the country illegally, many were drug or gang related.) And our gangs, although difficult to determine immigration status because of their age, are more than 80 percent Mexican street gangs.
All of these facts, combined with a lack of available federal support, put us in a position where we had to use what tools were legally available. We were informed about the 287(g) federal partnership and in absence of having the federal resources available, applied for the program.
Before explaining what the program is, it's extremely important to understand what it is not. It is not, as it's been characterized by Kennedy, anti-immigrant; it's not even anti-illegal immigrant. The program's sole focus is on those illegal who that continue to break the law while they are here. The only way anyone becomes subject to the program is if they are arrested for a separate offense and find themselves booked into the jail.
The 287(g) program itself basically requires that we identify several officers to work with ICE and that we send them to federally sponsored training in order for them to have access to federal databases and to authorize them to initiate certain paperwork associated with the program.
It's also important to understand that under Georgia law, all sheriffs' offices are required to check the legal status of anyone processed into a jail in this state who has questionable status. In most cases they refer them to ICE; in ours, we can make the data base check ourselves.
After it has been determined that the person booked is here illegally, the officers then complete the necessary paperwork and refer the individual to ICE, where they will be given their due process, have access to a hearing and then a determination is made by ICE on whether to deport or not.
It has been suggested by Kennedy and others that the sheriff's office should only process certain cases, that we, in effect, should act as judge and jury in particular cases picking and choosing which individuals are processed and which are not.
As I've said in the past, that would be a very slippery slope, with many opportunities for abuse and corruption. I strongly believe that decisions such as these are best left to the proper area of our legal system, the judges and courts as our system allows.
Finally, to share some of the results that we've seen, when comparing statistical information before the program was initiated with information since the program was initiated we've seen the following:
According to the Gainesville Hall County Multi Agency Narcotics Squad, the volume of drugs coming into Hall has been reduced by approximately 70 percent.
Since implementing the program we've seen a reduction in violent crime, with one illegal immigrant-related homicide committed since the program's inception.
And most significant, according to the Gainesville Hall County Gang Task Force, we've seen a 44 percent reduction in our recorded gang membership here in Hall County.
At the end of the day we know that there will always be those that disagree with what's done or the way things are done, but well intended people can always agree to disagree without being disrespectful and mean-spirited.
I also want to take the opportunity to thank the citizens of this county for the positive feedback we've received regarding this and other programs we've initiated here and we want to say that we take great pride in our service to this community. We welcome your input and will always gladly address your concerns when you have them.
The only thing that I would encourage is that when and if you ever do have questions, comments or concerns, please give us a call. We're always grateful to get the opportunity to answer your concerns and we feel very blessed to have the chance to serve.
Steve Cronic is sheriff of Hall County.