Grand jury takes on immigration costs
Panel recommends tracking taxpayers' burden

LAWRENCEVILLE - Not only are the people uncounted, but the cost of illegal immigration hasn't been tallied, a Gwinnett grand jury complained last week.

In the presentments issued at the end of the grand jury's term in office, the group of citizens recommended county commissioners and state legislators try to track the fiscal impact of undocumented workers.

Grand jury members attempted to add up the numbers, but found, "there is no way to determine, in any definitive way, how many tax dollars are spent providing county services to undocumented immigrants," the presentments read.

While officials often cannot ask a person's immigration status, members of the jury said they heard a large number of cases "in which it would reasonable to believe that the crimes were committed by persons in this country illegally. It appears that a disproportionate number of crimes are being committed by illegal aliens."

Jurors wrote that they believed "rational business decisions" on the issue could not be reached until the actual fiscal impact is known.

"They are not always the easiest costs to identify," County Administrator Jock Connell said, adding that police and fire services aren't withheld because of immigration status, and no one is turned away from parks, schools, hospitals or health clinics.

While officials are considering a program to determine the immigration status of people booked into the Gwinnett County jail, Connell said there is often no way to determine the impacts to other sectors.

But he said he takes recommendations from the grand jury seriously and plans to look into the idea.

The grand jury also asked commissioners to consider programs "to reach people who were not born in the United States in order to instruct and acclimate them to the laws and customs" of the country, the presentments read. "This way, law abiding immigrants may more fully understand and participate in the community."