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Technology hang-up delays immigration enforcement
Sheriffs office waiting on feds to install computers
Maj. Jeff Strickland of the Hall County Sheriff's Office reads a box containing a scanner along with a table full of computer equipment meant for the 287(g) program that would begin processing illegal immigrants booked into the Hall County jail. - photo by SCOTT ROGERS The Times

When nine Hall County deputies graduated from a federal immigration enforcement training course on Feb. 4, local officials believed it would only be a few weeks at most before they would begin processing for deportation all illegal immigrants booked into the Hall County jail.

But nearly two months later, Hall County authorities are still waiting to start the 287(g) program.
Under Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, deputies are authorized to begin deportation proceedings for persons who are booked into the county jail while in the country illegally.

Federal officials have 72 hours to pick up the detainees or begin paying the county a daily fee to house them.

Yet computer equipment that would give sheriff's deputies access to federal immigration databases remains boxed up, collecting dust in a conference room at the county jail. Officials are waiting for technicians with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to install it.

"We're sitting on go," Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic said earlier this week. "They keep saying ‘next Friday, next Friday,' but next Friday never seems to come. It has been so frustrating."

On Friday, a day after The Times began inquiring as to when the program would begin, federal immigrations officials sent an e-mail notifying the sheriff's office that technicians would be in Hall County on Tuesday to install the equipment.

Richard Rocha, a spokesman for Immigrations and Customs, said Friday that federal officials "have been in communication with Hall County to explain the delay."

Asked what caused the delay, Rocha said, "I think we want to make sure we have the equipment and technology installed adequately, and sometimes there may be scheduling issues."

Hall County is not the only jurisdiction in Georgia that has been waiting nearly two months to start the immigration enforcement program. The Whitfield County Sheriff's Office, which graduated deputies from the training course alongside Hall deputies, has not gone online with 287(g), either.

Cronic's office was put on a waiting list for 287(g) in February 2007, and won federal approval in late 2007 with the help of U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Gainesville, a major proponent of the program.

There are only about 40 law enforcement agencies in the country that have been granted the enforcement powers of 287(g). More than 60 police and sheriff's departments are on a waiting list for the partnership. The Cobb County Sheriff's Office is currently the only local law enforcement agency in Georgia that is operating the program.

The numbers in Hall County could be substantial once the program is up and running. Cronic estimates that about 200 foreign nationals are booked into the jail each month, with at least 50 percent in the country illegally.

Training was completed in early February. The sheriff's office then had to formalize agreements with federal officials on when and how detainees would be turned over to immigrations.

After the agreement was reached, a secure T-1 computer transmission line had to be installed by authorized technicians at the county jail. Then the computers arrived and remained in their boxes for about a month.

The sheriff said he applauds federal immigration officials for their continued cooperation with locally assigned agents that have worked closely with his office for years.

"We've always enjoyed a good working relationship with (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) field personnel," Cronic said. "They've enabled us to do a lot of things we wouldn't be able to do otherwise. Our frustration is with the bureaucracy that seems to go hand-in-hand with the 287(g) program. We appreciate the partnership, but it's been an ordeal at every phase to get this done."

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