With the battle over illegal immigration a hot topic this campaign season, commission candidate Shirley Lasseter has announced an effort to open a federal Illegal Immigration Detention Center in Gwinnett.
"Legal immigrants are the some of the hardest working and most patriotic members of our American population, but for too long Gwinnett County has been a hub of illegal immigration," said Lasseter, the former mayor of Duluth who is running on the GOP ballot for the District 1 seat being vacated by Lorraine Green. "We have one of the largest populations of illegal immigrants in the country, and something has to be done.
"The 287(g) federal immigration training program is a fantastic start, but we have to take it a step further and make it enforceable," she said, referring to the federal program to train deputies to check immigration status, which caused a public scuffle between Green and incumbent Chairman Charles Bannister earlier this year.
Lasseter said she has already reached out to federal officials to work on bringing the center to the area, as metro Atlanta is the largest area in the country without such a detention center.
"As a former mayor, I can tell you the lack of an illegal immigrant detention center is one of the reasons illegal immigrant crime is growing in Gwinnett and metro Atlanta. We need action on this issue now," Lasseter said.
Jonathan Osborne, a legislative expert on immigration reform who works with members of Congress and the Bush administration, was quoted in Lasseter's press release on the issue.
"Georgia needs an illegal immigrant detention facility. As recently as the House Education and Labor hearing this past week, federal immigration officials asked Congress for more infrastructure, specifically in Dallas, Texas and Atlanta, Ga. A detention facility would free up local jail space and encourage more sheriffs' departments to engage and apprehend illegal aliens," he said. "Local jails are just a temporary fix designed to hold these individuals until federal immigration officials can remove them. However, if a detention facility were built in metro Atlanta or nearby in Georgia, the local sheriff would be more willing to transport the aliens or federal agents may be more willing to pick them up more frequently. Furthermore, Gwinnett County's proximity to Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport would also help federal authorities expedite the return of many illegal and criminal aliens to their home countries."
Lasseter will square off in the July Republican primary against former Suwanee councilwoman Carol Hassell and Bruce LeVell, who is on the MARTA and Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District boards.
LeVell has been working on his own crime fighting.
While he was working at his store, The Diamond Warehouse, in late April, LeVell witnessed a hit-and-run accident outside. He jumped in his car and followed the suspect as he fled the scene.
LeVell said he called 911 but was put on hold, so he called an officer who frequently works security at the store to get help. LeVell was able to spot the suspect as he climbed a tree to avoid arrest, and he helped police apprehend the suspect, who later was discovered to be an illegal immigrant.
"I'm not Superman or Mr. Policeman, but that's how I really feel about this community," LeVell said of the Gwinnett Place Mall area, where his store is located. "This is one of many incidents that have occurred. It's what really motivated me to run (for office) and try to help."