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ICE enters deal with Gwinnett sheriff
Sheriffï ¿ ½s Department can now check immigration status of anyone in custody

LAWRENCEVILLE - The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency announced Friday that it had entered into a 287(g) agreement with the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department and 10 other law enforcement agencies nationwide.

That makes 77 national 287(g) agreements signed with ICE.

For Gwinnett County, it means that anybody brought into custody by the Sheriff's Department or brought to the jail is subject to an immigration check by officers to see if they are in the country legally. If it's determined that a person in custody is here illegally, then officers have the right to detain that person and have them turned over to ICE officials for possible deportation.

The federal announcement was welcomed by Sheriff Butch Conway, whose department participated in a trial 287(g) program in 2008.

"I'm very pleased with this because I've been doing lots of squeaking the last few months," Conway said. "I've been working very closely with Sen. (Saxby) Chambliss and Sen. (Johnny) Isakson to try and get this done."

"There's a tremendous problem with illegal aliens being arrested in Gwinnett," Conway said. "And then when they're arrested, they don't show up for court ... They take up a tremendous amount of our resources and it hurts the county's quality of life tremendously."

Conway said he'd be receiving, signing and returning a copy of the agreement next week from ICE and that it would probably take two to three months to implement the program. He also said that funding for the program was already approved in last year's budget and was to "carry over" this year.

In December, the group Atlantans Building Leadership for Empowerment opposed 287(g) by delivering 1,000 signed Nativity cards, a decorated Christmas tree and a gift to Conway.

A call to the group's Tracy Blagec was not returned before press time.

In other 287(g) news, Janet Napolitano, the secretary of Homeland Security, said that ICE had standardized the agreement it uses to enter into 287(g) partnerships with law enforcement agencies like Gwinnett's.

Napolitano said the new agreement supports local efforts to protect public safety by giving law enforcement the tools to identify and remove dangerous criminal aliens.

"It also promotes consistency across the board to ensure that all our state and local law enforcement partners are using the same standards in implementing the 287(g) program," Napolitano said in a news release.

One key component to the new agreement is meant to address concerns that individuals could be arrested for minor offenses in order to initiate removal proceedings.

To address this, the agreement states that participating local law enforcement agencies are required to pursue all criminal charges that originally caused the offender to be taken into custody.

"The new agreement strengthens ICE's oversight of the program and allows us to better utilize the resources and capabilities of our law enforcement partners across the nation," said ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton.