Merry protest critical of immigration agreement

LAWRENCEVILLE - Nativity cards and glad tidings make for a pretty docile protest, but that was basically the point.

A couple dozen members of ABLE, or Atlantans Building Leadership for Empowerment, brought Christmas cheer by the bag-load to the Gwinnett County Jail on Tuesday morning, along with pointed criticism of Sheriff Butch Conway's stance on immigration.

The group opposes the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement 287(g) program, which would train deputies to strain illegal immigrants from the regular inmate population at the jail and begin deportation paperwork.

They fear that 287(g) will spawn civil rights abuses and racial profiling on the part of local deputies tasked with sniffing out illegals.

Gwinnett government heads and Conway support the program and hope to activate it in coming months.

The ABLE leaders gathered to hold a quiet prayer vigil and deliver 1,000 signed Nativity cards - each lamenting the 287(g) program - along with a real pine tree to Conway's office. Above all, they wanted to wish the sheriff a very Merry Christmas.

"(We) will remind him that Jesus was an immigrant," said the Rev. Tracy Blagec of Atlanta.

Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Stacey Bourbonnais said recently her agency is awaiting approval from federal officials before moving forward with 287(g) training.

The next available ICE classes to train local deputies start early next year, Bourbonnais said.

In April, the Board of Commissioners promised Conway up to 18 additional deputies - at a cost of $1.2 million - and $2.1 million in funding for the program.