On Friday, Gwinnett County received news that gives a super, turbo-charged boost to the race against gangs, drugs and the criminal element.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency announced it had entered into a 287(g) agreement with the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department.
Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act trains and authorizes local officers to investigate, detain and arrest illegal immigrants on civil and criminal grounds. Gwinnett Sheriff Butch Conway has been diligent in his efforts to bring the program to his department. He enlisted the aid of Georgia senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson. Their efforts have finally paid off.
287(g) gives local officers the power and the tools to move illegal aliens toward deportation. It also grants access to the ICE database - an essential tool in identifying illegal aliens.
An ICE census of our county jail conducted in January showed 914 illegal immigrants were housed there. Perhaps more startling is that of every 10 foreign-born inmates at the county jail, seven had entered this country illegally.
For Gwinnett County, acceptance into the program means that anyone brought into custody by the Sheriff's Department or brought to the jail is subject to an immigration check. If the person in custody is here illegally, officers have the right to detain that person and turn them over to ICE officials for possible deportation.
Foreign drug cartels have quietly invaded this area. Our interstate highways and suburban setting are a perfect combination for clandestine activities that need easy access to efficient supply lines. Gwinnett County fits the description.
· Last July, an alleged drug dealer was found severely dehydrated and badly beaten after being chained and gagged for six days in the basement of a Lilburn home.
· Four days earlier, Gwinnett police SWAT officers shot and killed a suspect in the parking lot of a Waffle House in another drug-related kidnapping.
· In September, police raided a Lawrenceville home belonging to an alleged leader of the brutal Gulf cartel - a group known for torture, murder and beheadings in Mexico.
· A recent police campaign unearthed 17 "grow houses" where drugs are grown or manufactured in the basements of homes nestled quietly amid Gwinnett subdivisions.
Sheriff Conway welcomes the opportunity to add 287(g) to his department's arsenal against crime. "There's a tremendous problem with illegal aliens being arrested in Gwinnett. 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."
The community owes its thanks to those who worked to bring us 287(g). Ours is one of only 77 national 287(g) agreements signed with ICE.
The program isn't a magic wand that will make the criminal element disappear. But it gives the sheriff and his deputies and staff at the county jail a much-needed weapon in their fight against crime.
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