How Proposed Immigration Legislation Has Already Impacted Georgia – WABE

Lawmakers have one more day to pass a bill that would require law enforcement to partner with the Department of Homeland Security to enforce immigration law, a strategy that is not new in Georgia.

Republican lawmakers want to require jurisdictions to take on more immigration responsibilities, citing both the federal 287g program and Secure Communities, both with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Part of HB1105 requires ICE to assign local officials to identify, detain, and process noncitizens for deportation. Six jurisdictions in Georgia are already involved in agreements like this, and two counties joined and then left the 287g program.

The Oconee County Sheriff's Department entered into an agreement with ICE in 2019.

“We have a number of certified peace officers working at the jail who have gone through the immigration enforcement training program and are authorized to serve these warrants,” Sheriff James Hale Jr. said.

Oconee County has something called the Warrant Service Officer Program under 287g, where people who are arrested and fingerprinted are run through state and federal databases. When ICE wishes to detain an arrested noncitizen, it notifies the sheriff's office by issuing an immigration arrest warrant.

ICE issues immigration detainers against noncitizens arrested on criminal charges because immigration officials believe there may be grounds for deporting the noncitizens. ICE then takes the person into immigration custody after they are released from the local jail and decides whether or not they can deport the person.

“We're not out here looking for undocumented people just to put them in jail on charges just so we can deport them or anything like that,” Hale said. “It’s more about us doing our part.”

Both Cobb and Gwinnett Counties originally signed up for 287g programs. After years of advocating for immigrant rights and newly elected Democratic sheriffs, both counties dropped the programs. Additionally, the demographic makeup of each community had changed.

Advocates say partnerships like this end up disproportionately targeting nonwhite people who must demonstrate legal status in encounters with police.

In Cobb County, law enforcement also wants to ensure that anyone feels they can report any information they have about a crime or call the police if they are the victim of a crime, regardless of their legal status.

Carlos Garcia is the sheriff's Latino liaison.

“We all want to live in a safe community,” he said at a news conference in Mariette, “but when we marginalize one particular person because of their legal status, we create a problem for everyone.”

The bill must receive final approval from the House of Representatives before being sent to the governor.