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Atlanta Area Immigrant inmates face fast-tracked deportation

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Filed: Citizen (apr) Country: Canada

Gwinnett begins fast-track deportations next month

By Andria Simmons, Mary Lou Pickel

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hundreds of Gwinnett County inmates who are in the country illegally will be fast-tracked for deportation once federal immigration officials begin a 26-day "surge" to screen foreign nationals.

The surge will begin Jan. 12, with federal immigration officials working in 15-person teams from 6 a.m. to midnight at the Gwinnett jail, said Stacey Bourbonnais, spokeswoman for the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department.

The surge is the latest step in an effort to forge a partnership between the county and the federal government that would allow local jailers to begin deportation paperwork.

During the surge, agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will check the immigration status of all foreign-born inmates booked into the jail regardless of their claim to citizenship. Inmates here illegally will be processed for removal to their home country, Bourbonnais said.

Gwinnett has been waiting since March for approval from ICE to begin training deputies to flag illegal immigrants who are arrested — no matter the offense — for deportation.

"This hopefully will bring us one step closer in getting the green light on that program and will give ICE an idea of the approximate numbers they would be receiving from our jail," said Gwinnett Sheriff Butch Conway. "I'm very pleased that ICE has committed these resources to Gwinnett County and our citizens."

The Sheriff's Department currently does not track inmates' immigration status, but it does count which ones are foreign-born. So far this year, 14,084 foreign nationals have been booked into the jail, and department officials estimate that about 60 percent of them are here illegally.

The Cobb, Whitfield and Hall County Sheriff's Departments as well as the Georgia State Patrol are already participating in the program, known as 287(g).

Not everyone is in favor of the program. Pastor Carlos Alberto Gutierrez, minister of Mount Sinai Christian Church in Norcross, joined about 50 people earlier this month in demonstrating against the program at the Gwinnett jail.

"It's not a good idea," said Gutierrez. "A lot of families will be separated — children from parents. We're praying every day and every night."

Because of the large number of foreign-born inmates booked into the Gwinnett jail each year, ICE has expressed concern about how many agents would be needed to provide oversight for Gwinnett, according to Bourbonnais.

This year, Cobb County had transferred more than 2,900 inmates to federal agents for deportation as of November. There is one ICE agent assigned to its jail to oversee the work of nine sheriff's deputies. However, Gwinnett will have 18 deputies and it's projected to have nearly double the number of deportations, between 4,000 and 6,000.


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