When it comes to immigration laws, enforcement works

"Without this partnership, you don't have any access to immigration fingerprints, and that's what really identifies the status of an illegal alien in your community committing crimes."

- James Pendergraph, executive director, Office of State and Local Coordination, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on use of the 1996 local law enforcement program aimed at illegal immigration.

I'm guessing what former Mecklenburg County, N.C., Sheriff Pendergraph meant to say was "committing additional crimes."

Illegal immigration, like employing illegals, is a crime. As is manufacturing false IDs or stealing the identity of Americans to obtain a driver's license or working illegally in the U.S.

Pendergraph is something of a hero to those who study the organized crime of illegal immigration. Before retiring as a sheriff, he was one of the first to take advantage of a now 12-year-old federal tool aimed at multiplying the force of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).

Some facts on the immigration law:

· In 1996, Congress amended the Immigration and Nationality Act. One of the amendments - section 287 (g) - provides for training of state and local law enforcement to expand their existing authority to assist ICE in immigration law enforcement.

· Any head of law enforcement in the nation can apply to ICE for the two- to six-week training of their officers - or deputies - to gain authority to access a federal data base that identifies illegal aliens who have been apprehended for additional crimes.

· Sheriffs all over the nation are using 287 (g) authority to filter out illegals booked into their jails and begin deportation action.

Here in Georgia, after a unanimous recommendation from the Cobb Board of Commissioners to move ahead, Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren has sent two classes of deputies to be trained by the feds under 287 (g) and on July 1 began screening all noncitizens booked into his jail using the federal database.

From July to January, Warren's office booked 3,495 foreign-born people into his jail. ICE placed an immigration "hold" on 1,357 of those and has picked up more than 750 illegal aliens for possible deportation proceedings.

Besides the obvious result of having fewer illegals on the streets of Cobb County because of deportation, the knowledge that the law is being enthusiastically enforced and equally applied has resulted in illegals migrating out of Cobb.

On attacking illegal immigration, an obvious truth is being proven: enforcement works. The 287 (g) authority is a deterrent to the continued presence of illegals in the communities where law enforcement has shown the attention to duty and courage to implement the no-cost program.

This month, Georgia sheriffs in Hall and Whitfield counties began use of 287 (g) authority. Soon, the sheriff in Oconee County will as well.

According to Pendergraph, more than 30 local and state agencies, including Los Angeles County in California, are using 287 (g) and more than 90 agencies and 600 officers are waiting for training nationwide.

Because of its proven results, the program has received more than $25 million in federal funding for training and other costs this fiscal year, up from $15 million the previous year.

Not everyone is happy about the latest effort to rid Georgia of the taxpayer-subsidized illegal aliens who are lowering wages and straining our schools, hospitals, jails and common language.

The "undocumented worker's" employers who worry more about being struck by lightning than being punished for hiring the black market labor are less than thrilled.

Jerry Gonzalez of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials angrily labeled Cobb Sheriff Warren "Wild West Warren" after he began use of 287 (g) and then Gonzalez organized public charges of "racial profiling" leveled at Cobb Police.

No word yet from Gonzalez on what race "illegal" is, but Americans of all descriptions proudly attended a December rally on the courthouse steps in Marietta to honor and thank Sheriff Neil Warren.

Gwinnett residents should be asking - and often - when they can expect to plan a similar rally in their own county.

D.A. King is president of the Cobb-based Dustin Inman Society, a nonprofit coalition actively opposed to illegal immigration.