Published Monday, May 02, 2011 in Local
The conversation about how to get a handle on illegal immigration is continuing on the local, state and federal levels.
Currently, Georgia House Bill 87 — geared at cracking down on illegal immigration in the state — is awaiting Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature.
“The legislation would enhance our ability to ask more questions of people about their legal status,” said Coweta County Sheriff Mike Yeager. “We want our community to know that we’re not just sitting around waiting for HB 87 to be signed, we’re already in the process of looking at other resources to help us identify people who are in the country illegally to speed up the process.”
Yeager has long been vocal about his department’s objective to remove illegal immigrants from Coweta County, though enforcement has, in the past, not been a consistent possibility, he says.
Last year, however, the sheriff’s office applied to participate in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Secure Communities program — ICE’s comprehensive strategy to improve and modernize the identification and removal of aliens convicted of a crime from the United States. The program uses biometrics — computerized fingerprinting — to identify aliens, both lawfully and unlawfully present in the country, who are booked into local law enforcement’s custody for a crime.
The sheriff’s office went online with the program March 15. Coweta, Chatham, Glenn, Fayette and Troup counties are the most recent in Georgia to participate in Secure Communities, according to Sheriff Yeager. These counties are using ICE’s capabilities in 21 Georgia jurisdictions.
“The jail clerk has daily contact with ICE,” said Yeager. “Since we came online, a dozen or more people have been picked up by ICE. In 12 months’ time, that will be a substantial move. This program has really enhanced our ability to move illegals and attract the attention of the feds.”
Once ICE is notified, agents evaluate each case to determine the individual’s immigration status and to take appropriate enforcement action. ICE will respond with a priority placed on aliens convicted of the most serious crimes first — such as those with convictions for major drug offenses, murder, rape and kidnapping.
“I think that this program is very beneficial,” said Yeager. “We’re heading in a direction that seems to be helping. Before, we were meeting one shut door after another with contacting federal agencies. This has opened some of those doors. We’re building a good working relationship with this program in place.
“Now we’ll be able to better look at everybody who walks through our doors,” he continued. “We’re looking at anyone who’s not a U.S. citizen — not just Hispanics.”
Yeager is also still pushing for Coweta County’s enrollment in the Immigration and Nationality Act Section 287(g) program, which permits designated officers to perform immigration law enforcement under the supervision of a federal agent assigned to the community.
Thus far, however, there have been no federal appropriations for the program. Yeager says that, for now, Secure Communities is the best alternative.