Nine Hall County Sheriff’s officers were among 38 local law enforcement officers from around the nation now authorized to enforce federal immigration laws.
A ceremony was held at the sheriff’s training center off Monroe Drive, where the officers have participated in an intensive two-week training course. The class included students from agencies in Arizona, Colorado, Florida and North Carolina.
An official of the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency in Washington, said the program, known as 287(g), is vital to local agencies who have criminals who are in the U.S. illegally.
Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act provides the legal authority for the Department of Homeland Security to enter into compacts with local law enforcement agencies to assist with internal enforcement of immigration laws.
"To me, it’s the difference between having 20-20 vision and being blind," said Jim Pendergraph, who retired last year as sheriff of Mecklenburg County, N.C., where Charlotte is the county seat. "Without this partnership, you don’t have any access to immigration fingerprints, and that’s what really identifies the status of an illegal alien in your community committing crimes."
Pendergraph is now executive director of state and local coordination for ICE and said there are 92 local and state agencies with more than 600 officers waiting for training.
The program has received more than $25 million for training and other associated costs in the current fiscal year, up from $15 million the previous year.
Kenneth Smith, special agent in charge of the ICE regional office for Georgia and the Carolinas, said there are currently seven agencies that are participating in the program. Nationwide, there are 34 law enforcement agencies with 600 officers trained to enforce immigration law.
In the past two years, more than 40,000 people with possible immigration violations have been identified.
Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic said Hall County’s activation as a participant awaits connection to the ICE computer network.
"This program is not anti-immigrant or anti-illegal immigrant, it is anti-illegal immigrant who is here and breaks the law while here," Cronic said.
The Hall County officers include a number of detention center officials, as well as a member of the Gang Task Force.
The 287(g) program is only one component under the ICE ACCESS (Agreements of Cooperation in Communities to Enhance Safety and Security) program.
Other programs include creation of local task forces targeting specific challenges, like gangs or document fraud.
The nine Hall County officers completing the training are Blake Farr, Rebecca Haefele, John Higginbotham, Merika Hubbard, West Mills, Gary Moore, Britt Parton, Stephen Weiler and Lynn Wheeler.