Two years after sheriff’s officials started an immigration enforcement program known as 287(g), some 2,000 people arrested in Hall County while in the country illegally have been turned over to federal officials for possible deportation.
The number of those who have been taken into custody by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement have varied month to month, but appears to be diminishing.
From a peak of 146 in July 2008, Hall County has seen a record low the last two months. In February and again in March, 49 people were taken into custody by ICE at the Hall County Jail. The monthly count has been below 100 since September 2009.
The Hall County Sheriff’s Office became the third law enforcement agency in Georgia — and only the 67th nationwide — to use 287(g) when it began the program in April 2008. It gives designated sheriff’s employees the ability to check the immigration status of people booked into the Hall County Jail and to begin processing them for possible deportation by ICE. The federal government makes the final decision on whether people detained locally on immigration violations will be picked up for deportation proceedings.
In the first year of the program, 1,099 people were picked up by ICE, according to Hall County Sheriff’s records. In the second year, 982 people were transported from the jail by federal officials.
In Cobb County, which has a population of about 700,000 compared to Hall County’s 180,000, some 6,600 people have been picked up by ICE since the county’s sheriff’s office started the program there in July 2007.
Supporters of the program say it has reduced violent crime and drug trafficking in the communities where it is used.
“The real value of 287(g) in addition to the deportation of illegal aliens is its deterrent factor,” said D.A. King, president of the Dustin Inman Society, a group that advocates enforcement of immigration laws. “287(g) is important because it is reducing crime in Georgia, saving tax dollars and creating jobs when illegal aliens leave.”
Alan Shope, chairman of the St. Michael Church Social Justice Committee, said while he respects the Hall County Sheriff’s Office and doesn’t believe deputies are abusing the program through racial profiling, he wishes they would show discretion in who is referred to ICE.
“I think Hall County has been good about not being out looking for people (in the country illegally),” Shope said. “But whenever they arrest them, for whatever reason, they’re going to run them on the ICE computer.
“The program was designed to target the bad guys as opposed to people committing traffic violations,” Shope said. “But Hall County just didn’t want to get into that judgment call.”
Hall County Chief Deputy Jeff Strickland said the sheriff’s office “treats everyone equally.”
“If they’re brought into the jail and their status is checked and we find that they are in the country illegally, we turn them over to ICE,” Strickland said. “We don’t differentiate between the criminal charges.”
Strickland said the numbers of those detained on immigration violations have remained fairly steady, with a slight decrease in recent months. He said since the program’s implementation “we have seen marked decreases in the number of gang members and volume of illegal drugs that were coming into our community by way of illegal aliens.”
In October, following a directive from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, new standardized Memorandums of Agreement were signed by federal and local officials. The memorandums specify that deportation proceedings be prioritized based on the seriousness of an individual’s criminal offense.
Barbara Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, said ICE is following that policy in making decisions on who to deport.
“With a certain amount of limited resources, we are going to place priority on individuals who pose the greatest threat,” Gonzalez said.
“If we have the opportunity to remove from the United States an individual who has a violent criminal past, then we’re going to take that person into custody, versus an individual who doesn’t have a violent past,” Gonzalez said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to turn a blind eye to those who violate the law administratively and who are in the country illegally.”
Shope said he still believes too large a percentage of the people being deported in Hall County are those caught in the net for minor offenses.
King doesn’t agree.
“Nobody gets deported for a broken tail light or driving without a driver’s license,” King said. “The singular reason for deportation is violation of American immigration laws.”