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Immigration patrol: New program will let deputies check status of county jail inmates
Sgt. Rebecca Haefele sets up one of the new computers that will be used as part of Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act at the Hall County jail. In the foreground is a device that electronically takes fingerprints, such as those seen above, and checks them with the system. - photo by Tom Reed

Hall County Sheriff’s officials say a program that will allow deputies to begin deportation proceedings for illegal immigrants who are booked into the county jail is closer to starting, after technicians began hooking up computer equipment this week.

"At this point, I’m really delighted to see some movement on it," Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic said. "I’m kind of watching it with guarded optimism."

Cronic and others in the sheriff’s office were frustrated by delays in getting the program started after graduating nine deputies from a federal immigration enforcement training course in early February.

A room full of computer equipment sat uninstalled for more than a month, while officials waited for technicians with federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to arrive. Cronic said the sheriff’s office was repeatedly given installation dates that were pushed back.

A spokesman for ICE, a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has said scheduling problems may have been to blame.

Cronic said it appeared federal officials were prompted into action after local news media began inquiring about the delays. Technicians began installing equipment on Tuesday and had completed one of four work stations by Wednesday afternoon. The work stations will allow authorized deputies to run immigration checks on those booked into the jail.

Hall County will join Whitfield County and Cobb County in Georgia in operation of the 287(g) program, which allows local law enforcement to place immigration holds on people booked into the jail. Cronic said federal officials will have 72 hours to pick up the inmates or pay the county a daily fee to hold them at the jail.

Cronic said approximately 100 illegal immigrants are booked into the jail each month. He believes the initial immigration holds for the new program will reflect that number, though they may go down once word of the program spreads.

The sheriff said the reaction to 287(g) he’s heard has been "overwhelmingly positive."

"This is not anti-immigration, not even anti-illegal immigration," Cronic said. "It’s aimed at illegal immigrants who continue to break the law while here. I think the community realizes that. Hopefully very soon we’ll be able to take advantage of this program."

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