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Delegation introduces deportation resolution
Lawmakers encourage Gwinnett to participate

LAWRENCEVILLE - Even more politicians have gotten involved in Gwinnett's debate over a federal program to allow local law enforcement to begin deportation paperwork of illegal immigrants.

Members of Gwinnett's House delegation have introduced a resolution under the Capitol dome to encourage the sheriff and Board of Commissioners to work together to implement the program.

Sheriff Butch Conway and Chairman Charles Bannister have publicly fought over the program for weeks. Although they both now agree it would be beneficial to the county, Conway has asked for additional staff and money for the program, which the commission may consider in the coming months.

"I'm in every political battle, if my constituents tell me they want this," said Rep. Bobby Reese, the chairman of the House delegation. "My constituents don't care who is the tough guy on the block. They want their streets to be safe."

Last week, commissioners delayed a vote to encourage Conway to pursue the program so officials could research possible costs.

In the House resolution, legislators are not specific about how to fund the program, but at least one member, Rep. Brian Thomas said he does not support the bill.

Thomas, D-Lilburn, described the move as asking two Gwinnett political figures to put their fighting aside.

"I figured that was something you could tell them with a phone call," Thomas said. "They are grown-ups; they can work it out without us."

Thomas said his problem was with the politics, not the program, where local deputies would be trained by federal immigration officials to begin deportation paperwork for any illegal immigrants booked into the Gwinnett County Detention Center. Conway estimates that about 60 percent of the 12,030 foreign-born inmates booked into the jail in 2007 were illegal.

Conway was not available for comment Monday, but Bannister said he has already spoken to some legislators about seeking state aid for the program, if more money is needed.

"If they want to get involved, that's a good thing, and if they want to help us get some money, that's another good thing," said Bannister, who spent nearly two decades as a member of the House himself.