BOC delays vote on immigration proposal

LAWRENCEVILLE - Commissioners will take a month to debate support of a federal immigration program to allow local law enforcement to begin deportation proceedings.

After adding a resolution to the Board of Commissioners hearing Tuesday to urge the sheriff to implement the 287(g) program, currently implemented in 37 jurisdictions across America, including Cobb County, board members later decided to wait on action, saying they want more time to study the implications and possible financial needs.

"I don't want to write someone a blank check. I thought it was necessary for us to take a step back," said Commissioner Mike Beaudreau, who called illegal immigration a "political football." "We need to not look at it as a political issue but as a fiscal one."

For weeks, Chairman Charles Bannister has prodded Sheriff Butch Conway to engage in the program, where deputies are trained to check the immigration status of jail inmates and begin deportation paperwork for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. A federal judge makes the final decision on deportation, but the county also could receive reimbursement for housing illegal immigrants.

Conway said last week he wanted to begin the program but would need $2 to $3 million in additional funding to hire more deputies and house inmates. The jail currently does not qualify for the program because of its overcrowded conditions, but Conway said he hopes to hire another 40 personnel by July to open additional housing units in the jail's new tower.

Conway, who did not attend Tuesday's hearing, has asked for 18 additional personnel for the immigration job, but county officials said they want to study

other jurisdictions to find out if the amount is necessary.

Commissioner Lorraine Green, who is challenging Bannister for the Republican nomination for chairman in July, wanted to proceed with the vote, although she said the resolution was not necessary to move forward with the program.

"(Citizens) don't need resolutions. They need solutions, and that's what we need to provide," Green said. "It is vital to the future of this county. I don't know if we need a resolution urging the sheriff to do what he wants to do."

Bannister, though, said he wanted to give county staff time to explore the issue.

"There is a lot that goes into this. We can't move forward without determining the amount of dollars we need. We can't move forward without determining the amount of personnel we need," Bannister said. "If there is a flaw in it, we want to know about it."

Nearly a dozen citizens spoke in favor of the federal program as well as conversing about proposed changes to the county's purchasing ordinance.

A final vote will be taken next week about a section of the law involving immigration. To resolve a federal lawsuit, officials have proposed a weakening of provisions forcing county contractors to verify the immigration status of employees.

"I want to urge you to keep all the teeth in the ordinance that you possibly can," Suwanee woman Denise Varenhorst said. "It means some of those who are being paid with my tax dollars are here illegally."