LAWRENCEVILLE - Congregants from the Latino church community chanted outside the Gwinnett County Jail on Saturday during a prayer rally blasting the deportation program they call harsh and unfair.
"It's our job as ministers to be here today to say we're not going to tolerate this persecution anymore," said the Rev. Miguel Rivera, a national immigration rights activist, bringing cheers from the crowd. "Enough is enough."
The rally, consisting of members of a dozen Latino churches and their leaders, took aim at the federal 287(g) agreement between Homeland Security and the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department.
The agreement, which commissioners earmarked $1 million to fund last month, allows local authorities to run immigration checks on anyone taken into custody - a capability that rested solely with federal agents before.
Sheriff Butch Conway championed the program, calling it an ideal way to manage illegal aliens arrested in Gwinnett who vanish before coming to court.
But several groups advocating immigrant rights - most vocally Atlantans Building Leadership for Empowerment (ABLE) and the American Civil Liberties Union - have condemned the program. In their eyes, it promotes racial profiling and rips immigrant families apart for minor offenses, such as driving without a license.
Representing the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, Rivera said he plans to voice those concerns to Gov. Sonny Perdue and other legislatures lacking "sympathy for the immigrant community," he said.
"We will continue coming to (the jail) every single week if it is necessary," he said.
Antonio Garcia, pastor of El Calvario Church in Norcross, said an increasing number of American-born children in Gwinnett are left with single-parent families following misdemeanor arrests.
"As Christians, we don't want to break the law," Garcia said. "We just want people to understand the position of the undocumented."
Rev. Antonio Mansogo thinks 287(g) would be better served for felony arrests, but even then would promote racial profiling, he said. Currently, 26 states, including Georgia, have no law explicitly prohibiting racial profiling.
"Most of the road blocks we see are in our community," said Mansogo, head of Norcross' Ministerio Pentecostal Central.
Rally attendee Daniel Bonilla, 10, of Lawrenceville, said his father has been jailed three years in Texas. His crime, Bonilla said, was recrossing the U.S. border with Mexico to unite with his family in Gwinnett.
"It's not right," Bonilla said. "We protest for people who've done nothing bad."