PROGRESS: 5 years after application, Gwinnett immigration program booming

LAWRENCEVILLE -- On March 3, 2008, the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department applied to participate in a controversial program dubbed 287(g).

Despite cries of potential racism and profiling by the American Civil Liberties Union, the department's application was approved by the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The program -- which allows deputies to identify and place detainers on illegal aliens once they've been arrested for other charges within the county -- was official launched in November 2009.

In the not quite five years since the initial application, the program has taken off.

In 287(g)'s first few months of implementation in Gwinnett, the sheriff's office placed nearly 400 immigrations detainers on inmates. In each year since, the pace has remained about the same: online records show deputies placed 2,926 detainers in 2010; 2,994 in 2011; and 2,959 in 2012.

"The deputies assigned to the program identify illegal criminal aliens under the supervision of an ICE agent and place detainers on them for ICE," a statement on the sheriff's department's website said. "Those inmates are then turned over to ICE for deportation proceedings once their local charges are adjudicated."

Each year, the overall percentage of detainers placed per inmates interviewed actually decreased. Records listed 5,025 inmates interviewed under the program in 2010, about 58 percent of which had immigration holds placed. In 2011, 5,578 inmates were interviewed, roughly 53 percent of which would face deportation.

Last year, 5,821 inmates were interviewed and about 51 percent of those were given detainers.

"The Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department does not deport anyone," according to the post on the department's website. "The only time a person's immigration status is checked in Gwinnett is if they are arrested and brought to jail. At that point, their status is checked and if they are in the country illegally, a detainer is placed for ICE."

Repeated attempts to obtain comment from the sheriff's department were unsuccessful.

The most interesting analysis, perhaps, comes when looking at the crimes detainees were originally arrested for.

Of the 9.461 inmates given immigration holds from the beginning of the 287(g) program until Feb. 11, 4,871 were detained on various traffic violations only. That comes to just over 51 percent.

Thirteen counts of murder, 137 counts of various sexual offenses and 574 felony drug charges have been lodged in 287(g) cases.

The vast majority -- 17,324 of the 20,450 total, or 85 percent -- of charges faced by Gwinnett inmates ultimately facing deportation were misdemeanor or traffic charges, ranging from theft and drug possession to ordinance and probation violations. Nearly 13,000 of the charges were DUI, driver's license or other traffic violations.

About 67 percent of the inmates ultimately hit with an immigration hold were born in Mexico.