The Obama administration confirmed last week that it had extended agreements allowing officials in four Georgia counties, including Hall, to continue participating in the federal 287(g) immigration program until June 30.
Named after the federal law that authorizes it, 287(g) gives police the power to question people about their legal status, serve arrest warrants and detain and transport criminals for immigration violations.
Gainesville attorney Arturo Corso expressed disappointment.
“I’ve been a long time critic of 287(g),” he said. “Under the previous administration, at the Sheriff’s Office, it wasn’t being used efficiently, or as it was designed.”
The program has been fraught with controversy.
“287(g) was written and designed to remove serious violent criminal aliens from our community,” Corso said. “Instead, in the previous administration, it was used as a dragnet to get very low level traffic offenders deported.”
Since fiscal year 2006, 16,287 people have been deported or allowed to voluntarily leave the country in connection with Georgia’s 287(g) programs, federal records show. Statistics for Hall County were not immediately available.
New Sheriff Gerald Couch was forthcoming in his campaign to say he supported participation in 287(g) program, but favored increased outreach to the Hispanic community.
Couch was tight-lipped when it came to addressing the issue.
“All residents of our county will be treated with dignity and respect,” he said. “I have demonstrated this through my interactions with the community while working in law enforcement and while campaigning for office.”
Indeed, Corso said he was optimistic about the program’s future use based on his conversations with Couch.
“He was very good about reaching out to the Hispanic community and talking to local leaders,” Corso said. “He talked very candidly about the consequences of misuse of 287(g).
“I think if 287(g) was going to be continued to be used, I have a lot of faith and trust that Sheriff Couch would use 287(g) the way it was intended — if you’re arrested for serious crime drug felonies, and other violent crimes, yeah, you’re going to be screened for deportation.”
The continuation of 287(g) was announced in the face of impending changes to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “Secure Communities” program.
Corso said those changes are less a shift from the status-quo than they might sound.
“Secure Communities is not much better. It’s really just a different name for a similar program,” he said.
Couch confirmed that unchanging reality.
“The deputy’s duties are no different than before — we will continue to enforce all of the laws for all people,” he said. “Those individuals that are arrested who are in violation of current immigration laws will be referred to ICE for appropriate action.”
Corso said the difference is the database sharing.
“With secure communities, it’s just a link between fingerprinting data bases in jail, and the immigration and customs enforcement database,” he said.
He said the consequences of “dragnet” targeting and generally low level offenses were not to be minimized.
“What we’ve seen is that all these people who were arrested for low-level traffic offenses, like a bulb out of order, all these people are leaving behind mothers and children,” he said. “They grow up without fathers, and without mothers, and we see a spike in juvenile crime, truancy, even an increase in what they call the pee-wee gang membership — younger kids who like the idea of being in a group, who are more delinquent and sometimes even violent.”
He noted there had been “a couple of tragic violent gang crimes” he said, in recent memory.
“All flowing from deporting fathers and mothers from community of children,” he said.
Corso said that the previous administration did sometimes exercise the discretion 287(g) affords to deputies.
“A man, he had a brain tumor. He was pulled over on the way to the doctor’s office one week before surgery. We were able to get him released, if but for that humanitarian reason,” he said. “Pregnant women have been released, or women who have newborn babies at home and are still nursing. For humanitarian occasions, some discretion was exercised.”
Corso emphasized again his optimism for Couch.
“The sheriff has always had that power and going forward, so hopefully, and I certainly don’t speak for office, he is going to use that discretion,” he said.
Corso clarified that immigration reform didn’t mean open borders.
“Immigration reform activists do not want criminal immigrants here. Living in the United States is a privilege we enthusiastically embrace,” he said.
But if enforcement were used in a more effective manner, Corso said, the benefits to society, he said, “would pay dividends 10 fold.”
Although it wouldn’t do much for the immigration attorney industry, he said.
“Of course, I’ll be out of business,” he added with a laugh. “And that would make me very happy.”