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ICE announces strategic plans that could affect deportations
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The federal agency that enforces immigration law has announced changes that may ultimately play a role in determining when people are deported for being in the country illegally.

This month officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced a realignment of its removal and detention divisions and a new strategic priority plan for the next four years.

In Hall County, ICE agents determine who is deported under the 287(g) program, a local-federal partnership that detains illegal immigrants if they are brought to the Hall County jail on criminal charges.

Critics have said ICE and local officials should use broader discretion in determining who is deported under 287(g).

In its new strategic plan, the agency says dangerous criminals, including gang members, should be the primary target of its detention and removal efforts.

Azadeh Shahshahani, director of the National Security/Immigrants' Rights Project at the ACLU of Georgia, says that hasn't always been the case in local 287(g) programs.

"ICE needs to do a better job of communicating to the localities the priorities, to ensure that they are adhered to," Shahshahani said. "There's been promises of reform in the immigration detention system, (but) we haven't seen a lot of changes on the ground."

D.A. King, president of the Dustin Inman Society, a group that advocates for enforcement of immigration law, said he believes the Obama administration will "cut back on enforcement as a nod to the radical special interest groups who are making that demand."

King does not believe, however, that the administration will end 287(g) altogether.

"Obama's got to present to the public at least the facade of enforcement," he said. "Were he to eliminate 287(g), he wouldn't have that leg of the stool to stand on. I don't believe 287(g) will be as strong as it has been, but I don't believe it will be eliminated."

Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic, like his counterparts in Cobb and Gwinnett counties, has a policy of starting detention proceedings for any person charged with an arrestable offense while in the country illegally, while ICE agents make the final determination on deportation. More than 2,000 people arrested in Hall County have been deported in the two years the program has been in effect.

Cronic said he was uncertain what changes, if any, the new strategic plan would mean locally.

"As always, we operate under the provisions of the law and what is defined by the memorandum of agreement (with ICE) until told otherwise," Cronic said.

Jerry Gonzalez, director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, described current immigration policy as enforced by ICE as "broken."

"ICE's priorities are in line with what needs to happen. But without comprehensive immigration reform, (the strategic plan) is just window dressing," Gonzalez said.

"There are 10 (million) to 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country," Gonzalez said. "If we were to enforce the rule of law as it is, we would be talking about shutting down the poultry industry, shutting down the agricultural industry and service industry, and that's not what we want.

"What we need is to make sure ICE does focus its priorities on protecting the homeland and making sure we can remove people for very serious crimes, not crimes like fishing without a license," Gonzalez said.

Brittney Nystrom, director of policy and legal affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based National Immigration Forum, said ICE does not appear to have a uniform system of managing its local partnerships under 287(g).

Nystrom said the new strategic plan doesn't seem to be a major departure from reforms the agency has announced in the past.

"It seems to underscore the direction ICE has been moving in for some time now, and maybe it's an articulation of their need to prioritize their resources," Nystrom said. "They've been saying for some time that with 10 (million) to 12 million undocumented immigrants, they have to pick and choose where to focus the bulk of their manpower and resources. So this strategic plan seems to be their outline for how to do that."