A new report shows nearly three times as many undocumented immigrants were detained in Hall County in the first 100 days of President Donald Trump’s administration compared to the same period in 2016.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued 179 detainers in Hall County between Jan. 20 and May 4, 2017, compared to 64 issued in that time frame in 2016. A detainer is a request to a local law enforcement agency to hold someone for an additional 48 hours so ICE can take custody of the person.
The data came through Freedom of Information Act requests by the Migration Policy Institute, an immigration-focused think tank that released a report May 8 on enforcement in the Trump administration. The group studied Hall, Gwinnett, DeKalb and Fulton counties along with 11 other sites across California, Illinois, New York, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
“The policies that are being set at the state level and the county level, such as 287(g), are really affecting the likelihood that any given unauthorized immigrant person will be arrested and will be put into removal proceedings,” Migration Policy Institute senior policy analyst Julia Gelatt said.
“In Georgia, one of the key factors is that anybody who is arrested for driving without a license ... has to be arrested and fingerprinted, which means that their fingerprints are then checked against immigration databases and then they are likely to be put into removal proceedings.”
Both Hall and Gwinnett participate in the 287(g) program, a partnership between local and federal agencies to identify undocumented immigrants for possible removal.
Hall County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Jeff Shoemaker said the average stay in the Hall County Jail is five days or less when there is an immigration detainer in place and the local charges are resolved.
He also said lesser offenses often don’t result in a detainer.
“Unless there is some sort of past history that the federal officials are aware of, maybe illegal re-entry or something like that, they may flag them. But, typically, no,” Shoemaker said.
Shoemaker said there have no staffing changes, added resources or schedule adjustments as a result of the increased detainers.
But one Gainesville attorney does believe enforcement efforts have changed.
“Now that the Trump administration has started their sort of zero tolerance type of policy, what we see is that the new president has abandoned the three tiers of priority for deportation,” Arturo Corso said.
In 2015, the Obama administration instituted the Priority Enforcement Program, which focused on deporting illegal immigrants convicted of serious crimes. Trump issued an executive order in January 2017 to revert to the Secure Communities policy that had been in force until 2015 and didn’t parse out types of crimes when considering immigrants for deportation.
Under the Obama administration, drug dealers, gang members, murderers and other serious felons were the main priority for deportation, Corso said.
“Sometimes, people have no criminal history at all. They’re just simply found to be unlawfully present,” Corso said. “So here in Georgia, where we have such a huge, noncitizen immigrant community and such a huge workforce, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.”
As a result, Corso said the court backlog has risen to a level unseen for at least a decade.
Gwinnett takes tough tack
ICE detainers to Gwinnett County jumped to 746 requests in 2017 compared to 150 the year before.
“Because ICE issues detainers when removable noncitizens are booked into jail, Gwinnett County’s rapid rise in detainer issuance could result from two possible trends: broader detainer issuance by ICE on noncitizens arrested for minor crimes, and a greater arrest rate for minor crimes by the local police in anticipation that immigrants would be taken into ICE custody,” according to the report.
Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Shannon Volkodav said Sheriff Butch Conway has been “very outspoken about his support of President Trump’s efforts to address the criminal undocumented population in our country.”
“Our role in the 287(g) program is pretty straightforward,” she added. “We simply place a detainer when appropriate and ICE comes to pick them up within 48 hours. We have no further involvement in the process once they leave our custody.”
Volkodav said all detainees are treated equally whatever the charge, and added there has been no noticeable strain on jail staffing.
“There are a large number in Georgia and some parts in particular of people being put into removal proceedings through traffic arrests, and that’s something that exists probably in other parts of the country, but that is not uniform across the country,” Gelatt said, noting that 12 states and Washington, D.C., allow undocumented immigrants to acquire driver’s licenses.
Vanesa Sarazua, founder and executive director of the Hispanic Alliance GA based in Gainesville, notes that while detainers issued in Hall increased 180 percent, Gwinnett’s increased to 746 requests in 2017 compared to 150 the year before, about a 400 percent increase.
“I think that there’s a difference between how Gwinnett and Hall County kind of deal with that,” Sarazua said.
In Gwinnett, about 1 in 5 residents is of Latino origin, compared to 1 in 4 In Hall.
Sarazua said “money talks” and Hall County’s economy is strengthened by immigrants working in major local industries, such as food processing.
“We don’t want to see that in Hall County,” Sarazua said. “We need these workers and we’re happy that they’re here.”
Impact on the economy
Josh McCall, a Gainesville resident running in the Democratic primary for the 9th District U.S. House seat, said the scope of immigration enforcement has expanded under Trump to include nonviolent offenders, and that law enforcement is targeting places once considered, such as schools and courtrooms.
He is concerned these new enforcement parameters could hurt Hall’s economy, particularly poultry and food processing plants that are heavily dependent on immigrant labor.
He also described current immigration enforcement, which sometimes leads to separating family members, as a product of “big government.”
“There’s nothing so fundamentally human as migration,” he added. “And, of course, there is nothing so quintessentially American as immigration.”
One such local worker is Liliam Ramos, who arrived in Hall from Honduras as an undocumented immigrant, joining her mother, who had a work permit. She secured a permit, graduated from Johnson High School and began attending the University of North Georgia in 2008. After being caught in an immigration sweep and detained for nearly two months along with her brother, Cristian, she was required to wear an ankle monitoring bracelet for nine months.
When her work permit expired, she returned to Honduras to ensure she had a legal path back to the U.S. She returned to the U.S. in 2012 with a green card, went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from UNG and is working on a master’s in public accounting at Brenau University.
Though her problems occurred before the current enforcement push, Ramos said she’s concerned other immigrants might have their dreams deferred.
“That’s my biggest concern,” she added. “I don’t want them to go through the same thing.”
Fulfilling a campaign promise
Though data show enforcement on the rise, Hall County Republican Party Chairman Matt Smith said he has spoken with law enforcement officials and thinks they are adhering closer to immigration laws.
“From what I’ve been told, they haven’t really done anything differently,” he said. “They’re just enforcing the laws that were in place before.”
Ed Asbridge, the immediate past-president of the South Hall Republican Club, said he thinks law enforcement “feels comfortable now doing their job.”
“I think what happened ... is that once Trump took office the whole atmosphere of immigration changed,” he said.
The uptick in immigration enforcement in Hall under Trump is what some conservative voters are counting as a campaign promise kept.
“Obviously, that was a big part of his platform,” Asbridge said.