LAWRENCEVILLE -- With the release of illegal immigrants from federal detention centers this week, Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway says public safety could be compromised if the federal "sequestering" expected to begin Friday continues for a long period.
"It's not a good situation," Conway said. "If it lasts more than a few weeks our jail population could begin to increase."
While much of the direct impact of the move -- a series cuts totaling $85 billion -- has not been determined, federal officials released thousands of illegal immigrants awaiting deportation proceedings.
Conway said he was not sure how it would impact the county's participation in the 287(g) program, which allows deputies to check the immigration status of an inmate and begin deportation proceedings. The worst offenders, who are incarcerated for serious crimes, would not be released, he said.
But the program has become a quite a crime deterrent here, with the jail population down by about 400 inmates since it began. Some of those illegally in the country left, while others have been more cautious to commit even the most minor offenses like driving without a license, Conway said.
That caution could go away without the fear of deportation, Gwinnett's top lawman said.
"If it's long enough it changes attitudes, we could expect a hit to our budget," Conway said of the county having to foot more of the bill for an increase in crime rates.
Officials have said the cuts could impact public health services and senior programs such as Meals on Wheels, although the local impact has not been determined.
Gwinnett leaders have also received word that the cuts would require the closure of the air traffic control tower at Briscoe Field in Lawrenceville, and the school system is expecting a $3.4 million hit in federal grants.