The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Many major Atlanta area police departments have not started training officers to enforce Georgia’s tough new anti-illegal immigration law, which is supposed to take effect July 1.
Among them are the DeKalb and Fulton county police departments and the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the state police. Cherokee County will start training Wednesday; the Atlanta Police Department refused to discuss the question.
Part of the problem is uncertainty over the fate of the law, which is being challenged in federal court. Some law enforcement agencies say they won’t train their officers until after the judge rules on whether it can take effect. Meanwhile, some local police call the law vague and various agencies are divided on the powers it would give them.
The prospect of uneven enforcement was on the judge’s mind Monday as he questioned lawyers for the state and the groups that are challenging the law. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash said local authorities might pick and choose whom to target for investigation, favoring some people and not others.
Thrash said he will rule by July 1 on whether the law should be put on hold.
In an interview with Channel 2 Action News Tuesday, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal dismissed concerns about uniform enforcement. “I can’t think of a single law that probably doesn’t get enforced in a different fashion from one jurisdiction to the other, whether it be speeding laws, whether it be any other kind of law that is mandated from the state level,” said Deal, who signed the new immigration law last month.
“I don’t think that invalidates the law itself,” he said.
Charles Kuck, an Atlanta-area immigration attorney who is fighting the law in court, disagreed. “What you are going to see is wildly inconsistent enforcement of this law across 159 different counties and a thousand other municipalities in this state,” said Kuck, past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “And that is inherently wrong.”
However, Deal said the state is only doing its job. “The intent of the law is to make sure those who are in our state are here legally,” he said. “States have a right to do what they can to protect their taxpayers.”
For University of Arizona immigration law professor Gabriel Chin, the lack of standardized, in-depth training creates a concern that police will trample people’s constitutional rights. Chin said that in Arizona, the first state to enact a similar law, a state agency provided extensive training for local police.
“I can’t believe major police agencies don’t have plans,” Chin said. “This is complicated… It’s not something you can cover in a roll call in five minutes.”
Several Atlanta area agencies aren’t starting from scratch. Cherokee, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties participate in a federal fingerprint-sharing program aimed at deporting violent illegal immigrants. Cobb and Gwinnett also participate in the federal 287(g) program, which empowers sheriff’s deputies to investigate the immigration status of people jailed for other crimes.
The new law substantially enhances the ability of officers in the field, however, to question and apprehend people whom they have probable cause to suspect are in the country illegally.
The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police emailed a 6-page training guide on the new law to about 800 police chiefs and top level commanders across the state about 45 days ago, said executive director Frank Rotondo. Departments are not mandated to use the guide.
Several departments said they are still in an analysis mode or awaiting Judge Thrash’s ruling.
Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren told “Mundo Hispanico” that analyzing the law in detail is important before starting to apply it.
In Atlanta, police officials said they are still discussing with the city Law Department and mayor’s office how they will enforce the law. DeKalb and Fulton police are also working out the details. They’ve had no training. Nor have Forsyth County sheriff’s deputies. Their office is awaiting Thrash’s ruling.
“Before we do anything, we want to make sure everybody knows what they can and cannot do,” said Sheriff Adjutant Capt. Charles Smith, the county’s training unit commander.
The Georgia State Patrol is also awaiting Thrash’s ruling. State patrol officers will discuss training this week, said Lt. Kermit Stokes, who is in charge of the State Patrol’s criminal interdiction unit. He dismissed any concerns that the state police may be starting their training too late.
“It would be something the average person would look at and say, ‘Well, they are not going to rush in and do something incorrectly. They are going to take their time and do it the right way,’ ” Stokes said.
Cherokee County Sheriff Roger Garrison said his department plans to train deputies Wednesday during the daily five- to 10-minute roll call. Officers will also receive an hour of training on the law during sessions beginning in two weeks, Garrison said.
That is a common approach when implementing a new law, department officials said.
In Arizona, officials distributed a roughly two hour video that trains officers how to enforce that state’s law, which courts have put on hold. The video touches on a variety of topics, including racial profiling, said Lyle Mann, executive director of the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board.
In Georgia, about 80 state and local police officers from across the state recently attended a four-hour-long training session at Columbus State University. The session was not mandatory, said Dale Mann, director of the Georgia Public Safety Training Center.
Among the people who attended that training was Cherokee Chief Deputy Vic West. He called the law “pretty vague” and said he sees the potential for multiple interpretations of it.
“That’s how confusing this law is,” West said. “This is going to be a difficult task.” He added, “It’s taken us several weeks to decipher it. We have turned to some of the usual places we go for answers, and haven’t gotten any.”
Regarding a provision of the law that punishes people for knowingly transporting illegal immigrants, West said it will be difficult to ascertain whether passengers in a vehicle are illegally in the country.
“They would have to have committed a violation of law before we could inquire about their immigration status,” he said.
But there is disagreement on this issue. Gene Callaway, a spokesman for the Doraville Police Department, said an officer has the right to ask for identification for other passengers when they are in a vehicle driven by someone who has broken the law.
Some area police, meanwhile, are worried about the unintended consequences of enforcing the law. Doraville Police Chief John King, for example, worries the law will deter people who are in the country illegally from reporting crimes committed against them.
He noted as well that the law doesn’t provide additional funding for police to jail those suspected of immigration violations.
“Where do I put my resources?” King said in a recent interview. “Jail space in DeKalb County is at a premium… This is one of the ultimate unfunded mandates.”