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Change coming to immigration enforcement
ICE will prioritize inmates according to crime
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Listen to Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic talk about the 287(g) program.

Federal homeland security officials are revamping a local-federal immigration enforcement program with new guidelines, but Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic doesn’t expect a lot of immediate changes in how his agency processes people in jail who are in the country illegally.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the changes Friday, four months after a government report that criticized the program for lacking consistency and clear goals.

The program, known commonly as 287(g), has been used by the Hall County Sheriff’s Office since April 2008. An average of 85 people who are booked into the Hall County jail each month are processed for deportation by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and more than 1,000 illegal immigrants arrested on criminal charges have been turned over to ICE since the program began.

Each of the more than 60 law enforcement agencies across the country that operate 287(g) will get new memorandums of agreement with ICE within the next 90 days, Department of Homeland Security spokesman Matthew Chandler said.

“The purpose is to present our partners with a uniform set of standards when implementing the 287(g) program,” Chandler said, noting that each local law enforcement agency had a different memorandum of agreement with ICE.

Cronic said Tuesday that after conferring with ICE officials on Monday, his office did not need to make any immediate changes to the program.

“At this point, it does not look like there will be any significant changes operationally,” Cronic said.

How ICE continues to do its part — picking up inmates and deporting them — remains to be seen. The agency will begin prioritizing inmates according to criminal offense.

Level 1 criminals would be illegal immigrants charged with serious violent crimes or major drug offenses, level 2 offenders would be those arrested on minor drug offenses or property crimes and level 3 offenders would be those arrested on other offenses.

Chandler said the program “is aimed at getting criminal aliens who pose a public safety risk off the streets.”

In Hall County, any illegal immigrant arrested on a jailable offense, regardless of the charge, is subject to the program. Cronic noted that it has always been up to ICE to determine who will be deported.

“From day one, ICE made the decision about who to pick up,” Cronic said. The sheriff could not venture a guess as to whether those decisions will change as the program goes forward with a new agreement.

Other changes to the agreement include limiting local law enforcement’s authority “to the confines of their area of responsibility.”

In the past, local gang task force members had the ability to detain a suspect on an immigration offense without the suspect being charged with a crime. Cronic said that arrest power was never used by local authorities, however, because an ICE agent already works closely with the task force.

The new agreement also requires that all criminal charges be resolved prior to deportation. Cronic said that’s been the case locally. Hall County State Court holds plea hearings inside the jail to expedite some criminal cases.

ICE will now have mechanisms for filing complaints as well as measuring a local law enforcement agency’s performance. Those agencies that don’t live up to the agreement can be terminated from the program.

Cronic said Hall County’s 287(g) program has been held up as a model by federal officials.

“We’ve been going above and beyond what the (agreement) required of us,” Cronic said.

The sheriff said any criticism that the sheriff’s office targeted people according to race or ethnicity was unfounded. The agency keeps track of who it pulls over or arrests to make certain enforcement efforts mirror the demographics of the community, Cronic said.

“We take a strong stance against any bias-based profiling,” Cronic said.

Homeland security officials also announced that 11 agencies will be added to the program, including the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office.

Hall, Whitfield and Cobb counties are currently the only local law enforcement agencies in Georgia that operate 287(g).

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