Gwinnett waiting to join feds on deporting illegal immigrants

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

For about eight months, Gwinnett County has been waiting for the federal government to forge a partnership to deport illegal immigrants from the county jail.

Sheriff Butch Conway applied in March to join a program with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But even if ICE were to approve the program before the end of the year, Gwinnett would not be able to train its deputies in immigration procedures until March at the earliest, said Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Stacey Bourbonnais. That’s when a training session for the program is available.

Such partnerships with ICE have become increasingly popular in the past two years, and now 63 law enforcement agencies nationwide have them.

The training prepares deputies to screen foreign-born inmates, determine who is in the country illegally and start deportation paperwork. Cobb County currently runs such a program and this year has transferred 2,746 inmates to federal agents for deportation. Cobb County has one ICE agent assigned to its jail to oversee the work of nine sheriff’s deputies, a Cobb County sheriff’s spokesman said.

The Gwinnett jail is expected to book a total of 13,081 foreign-born inmates in 2008, according to Bourbonnais. If Gwinnett joins the program, its number of deportations could be 4,000 to 6,000 a year — double that of Cobb County.

The wait time for ICE to approve a program varies, although a year is not uncommon, said Jessica Vaughan, a senior policy analyst for the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank that favors controls on immigration. “It’s very frustrating for those jurisdictions that have applied,