Immigration: County denied federal policy

LAWRENCEVILLE - A Gwinnett County application for a federal immigration status program has been rejected.

While the county government uses a government E-Verify program to verify the legal immigration status of its employees, the county is not enrolled in the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program, which is required by state law for verification of any disbursement of public benefits.

Maria Woods, director of the county's financial services department, said the county submitted paperwork in April 2007 and was in "approval pending status" from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Calls by a reporter prompted officials to check the county's status, and Woods said she learned the county's application had been rejected.

The only explanation, she said, was that the federal department had undergone some staffing changes since the application. Calls to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security were not immediately returned.

"We've been sort of sitting in limbo waiting," Woods said.

Officials are working on a new application, she said, so the program can be used to verify the status of those seeking U.S. Housing and Urban Development grants.

D.A. King, an activist with the Dustin Inman Society, said the only county to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the federal government for the SAVE program is Cobb County, even though a state law enacted a year ago requires it. No Gwinnett city has signed up for the program.

"Public benefits are clearly defined in federal law," King said. "Those benefits include any professional or commercial license provided by an agency of a state or local government. While brave Border Patrol agents are risking - and losing - their lives to stop illegal immigration, we watch as local governments in Georgia enable illegal aliens by providing business licenses and occupational tax certificates to those who escape apprehension."

Woods said the county did not have immediate plans for checking statuses of those paying business occupation taxes, although she said the county has its own system for checking the status of those seeking licenses for regulated businesses.

Regulated businesses include those involving alcoholic beverages, adult entertainment, vehicles for hire, massage establishments, precious metal dealers and escort/dating services. Those businesses account for about 6 percent of the total licenses in Gwinnett, Woods said.