Immigration violation training classes, for another Metro Atlanta law enforcement agency, have begun in the Gwinett County Sheriff's Department, despite fears from immigrant and civil rights groups about racial profiling.
The program, known as 287(g), is set up in cooperation with the US Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Added to the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1996, Section 287(g) allows local law enforcement agencies to check the immigration status of anyone arrested for a crime. The idea of the law is to keep serious criminals - who happen to be illegal immigrants - out of the US.
FILE - A detainee at Immigration and Customs En-
forcement's Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga.,
April, 2009. (Kate Brumback/AP)
But the American Civil Liberties Union and the group Atlantans Building Leadership for Empowerment say that 287(g) encourages officers of the law to use spurious charges to target Hispanics, just so they can check their immigration status. "287(g) is known to lead to increases in racial profiling," said ABLE, in a petition to the Gwinett County Board of Commissioners last month. "A program of this nature creates distrust between immigrant communities and law enforcement," they warned, "as it prevents immigrants from reporting crimes."
On August 1, 2009, ABLE and the ACLU held a community forum about the program in the Gwinett County town of Lilburn, Georgia. There they heard testimonials from Latinos who have been the target of what they claim to be racial profiling by law enforcement, including one 73-year-old man, born and raised in the US, who, after telling an officer he was on his way home, was reportedly told, "Your home is in Mexico."
Almost a month ago, DHS announced that it had "standardized the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) used to enter into '287(g)' partnerships" with local law enforcement agencies. In the statement, the DHS explained how the new MOA recognizes the potential for abuse and racial profiling. "To address concerns that individuals may be arrested for minor offenses as a guise to initiate removal proceedings," they said, "the new agreement explains that participating local law enforcement agencies are required to pursue all criminal charges that originally caused the offender to be taken into custody."
Despite that claim by DHS, the ACLU says, the exact wording of the actual agreement is different. "The new MOA only 'expect[s],' rather than 'requires,' the pursuit of charges," the ACLU noted after examining the agreement. "The old [Bush Administration] MOA contained the same 'expectation.' "
The old MOA is currently in effect in three other Georgia counties: Hall and Cobb - both part of the metro area - and Whitfield - where several Latino immigrants work in the carpet industry.
Gwinett is the first Georgia county to sign on to the revised agreement with DHS and ICE. The ten other municipalities in the country that DHS says have recently signed on to the 287(g) program are:
- Monmouth County, New Jersey, Sheriff’s Office;
- Rhode Island Department of Corrections;
- Delaware Department of Corrections – Sussex Correctional Institution;
- Houston Police Department;
- City of Mesquite, Nevada, Police Department;
- Morristown, New Jersey, Police Department;
- City of Mesa, Arizona, Police Department;
- Florence, Arizona, Police Department;
- Guilford County, North Carolina, Sheriff's Office; and
- Charleston County, South Carolina, Sheriff's Office.