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Ga. reps want immigrant enforcement program now
7 House members want ICE to install Secure Communities plan here before other states
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Seven Georgia congressmen, including U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, are asking federal immigration officials to explain why other states are getting a new enforcement program before Georgia.

On Thursday, the House representatives sent a letter to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement chief John Morton to meet on Capitol Hill.

"Our question to you now is simple," states the letter signed by Graves. "Why would you utilize such valuable and seemingly scarce resources to fully activate Secure Communities in such states as Hawaii and West Virginia, whose total illegal immigrant populations are estimated at 35,000 and 10,000 respectively, before Georgia?"

The federal program Secure Communities, which allows officials to check fingerprint information of arrested individuals against FBI criminal records for immigration status, is used in nine of Georgia's 159 counties, including Hall.

Though the entire state should see the program by the end of fiscal year 2013, Georgia officials want to know why other states are getting the full program first.

"The federal government has the responsibility to defend and protect our borders, equipping states and counties with how to deal with that issue," said Graves, who signed the letter with Jack Kingston of Savannah, Lynn Westmoreland of Grantville, Tom Price of Roswell, John Linder of Duluth, Paul Broun of Athens and Phil Gingrey of Marietta.

"It's clear that the federal government has not provided Georgia with the necessary resources that have been requested or required," Graves said Friday. "There's such a large demand in the Georgia, and we want to see ICE move forward. When we have sheriff's departments requesting assistance, they should answer the phone and answer the call."

The representatives initiated questions in an Oct. 13 letter to Morton.

"Priority in the deployment process is being given to high risk jurisdictions, and a number of localities in the state of Georgia have already been activated as a part of Secure Communities," they wrote. "We are asking you to implement the Secure Communities initiative throughout the entire state of Georgia as soon as possible. Doing so will improve public safety for all Georgians before 2013."

On Nov. 17, Eliot Williams, ICE's assistant director for Congressional relations, told the representatives that programs now exist in Clayton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Cobb, Fulton, Muscogee, Hall, Whitfield counties and will roll out to 48 more counties in 2011.

"When considering when and where to deploy Secure Communities, in addition to considering high-risk jurisdictions, ICE must also consider its operational capacity," he wrote. "Each ICE field office must be able to respond to identification from IDENT/IAFIS (the Federal Bureau of Investigation's and Department of Homeland Security's interoperability of their respective fingerprint databases) 24 hours a day/7 days a week."

In Thursday's letter, the representatives pointed out that 2009 Department of Homeland Security numbers show Georgia ranks sixth in the total population of illegal immigrants nationwide.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, Georgia has 425,000 illegal immigrants in 2009, "representing 4.3 percent of our overall population and 6.5 percent of our work force," the lawmakers wrote.

Graves voted against the DREAM Act this week, staunchly speaking against amnesty for illegal immigrants in the country.

"It'll only exacerbate the problem we have in Georgia," Graves said Friday. "I have a firm belief that we need to do everything to defend our borders and now allow amnesty in any form or fashion."

Local sheriffs have praised the fingerprint checks, saying they help prevent criminals from deceiving them with aliases.

"Some effects we've seen, even pretty early on, were a reduction in the number of documented gang members in Hall County," Hall County Sheriff's Office spokesman Col. Jeff Strickland said. "It has also helped to decrease the volume of illegal drugs coming into Hall County."

Under the Secure Communities program, the sheriff's office was able to upgrade equipment to include the FBI database checks.

"In a partnership with ICE, we also sent several of our jail officers to specialized training," he said. "We always have someone with ICE training on duty at the Hall County Jail."