Sunday, June 12, 2011

ICE roundup targets ‘criminal aliens’ (Dalton Daily Citizen)

ICE roundup targets ‘criminal aliens’
June 12, 2011
Mark Millican
Dalton Daily Citizen

DALTON — Dozens of primarily Hispanic men and women designated as “illegal aliens” have been booked into the Whitfield County Detention Center by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in the last month — but most of them don’t live in Whitfield or Murray counties.

For the most part, they bear addresses in Calhoun, Cartersville, Summerville, Trion and Rome, which are county seats and towns in Gordon, Bartow, Chattooga and Floyd counties.

But, if they don’t live in Whitfield County, why are they brought to the Whitfield County jail?

ICE spokesman Temple Black from the New Orleans office said the local jail is an “approved ICE detention facility” where ICE “occasionally” houses detainees for short periods of under 72 hours.

Black was evasive when asked if the arrests could be characterized as an immigration “sweep,” but said: “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement routinely conducts targeted enforcement operations in the area, with a focus on apprehending criminal aliens.”

Capt. Wes Lynch of the sheriff’s office said the department’s 287g program — which helps ICE-trained county officers identify inmates who are in the country illegally and have criminal backgrounds — is not directly related to the arrests ICE is making in the region.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with our 287g program here,” he said. “We are not authorized by our MOA (Memorandum of Agreement) to quote on anything ICE is doing, but (the detainees) are here one to three nights and then they come get them two or three times a week.”

Lynch said the sheriff’s office receives between $5,000 to $6,000 per month to house the ICE detainees.

“It’s not increasing our budget,” he said. “It’s actually helping with things.

Local officials also can’t say whether all ICE detainees taken from the jail or deported or not — it’s out of their hands once ICE arrives to transport them to a holding facility in Atlanta. Lynch said ICE uses different “divisions” inside the agency, one for arrests and the other for picking up detainees, to keep the enforcement operation fluid and not bogged down with arrest-to-deportation responsibilities.

In a speech on immigration reform in El Paso, Texas, earlier this year, President Barack Obama said his administration has focused on deporting illegal immigrants convicted of crimes.

“Beyond the border, we’re going after employers who knowingly exploit people and break the law,” Obama said in the speech on May 10. “And we are deporting those who are here illegally. And that’s a tough issue. It’s a source of controversy.”

Lynch could only say that immigration enforcement efforts geared toward criminal aliens appear to be on the increase across the country.

As to what’s going on in Northwest Georgia, he replied, “You will probably have to ask Atlanta ICE about that.”

Barbara Gonzalez, press secretary for ICE, referred all regional questions to Black.

Road checks here

With the implementation of Georgia’s new immigration law — similar to Arizona’s controversial legislation passed last year — on the horizon, Latino residents in Dalton have expressed concern about what they fear will be an increase in arrests.

Roadblocks or “road checks” as some agencies call them, can now result in an arrest if a driver — of any ethnicity — is caught driving without a license. With the 287g program, if that person is found to be in the country illegally, they can be detained and possibly deported.

Dalton is around 47 percent Hispanic, according to recent statistics.

The two-year-old “driving while unlicensed” law requires that fingerprinting take place when the unlicensed driver is booked into the jail. They can be released on bond immediately unless there is a reason to hold them.

Officer Steve Zahn with the Dalton Police Department’s traffic enforcement unit explained the process.

“The General Assembly made driving without a driver’s license a ‘fingerprintable’ offense,” he explained. “In other words, it would be like if you got a ‘driving without a driver’s license’ charge, you went to jail, you bonded out or whatever. And you can still do the same thing. But prior to being bonded out you have to be fingerprinted. They ‘tiered’ it, and it goes up to where on the fourth charge (of driving without a license) it’s a felony.”

“Our practice had always been we didn’t take everyone to jail who was driving without a license ... (but now) that’s a Georgia law and nothing we had anything to do with,” he added. Zahn said strict enforcement of the law has been emphasized statewide, whereas many agencies — including the Dalton Police — were not enforcing it literally until recently.

Statistics provided by Dalton Police show that, so far this year, Hispanics account for 10.49 percent of citations issued by the department. But those numbers include regular traffic enforcement as well as road checks.

Police spokesman Bruce Frazier said, “We don’t do immigration road blocks, we do traffic road checks.”

“It should go without saying that we’re not racially profiling people at road checks — that doesn’t happen,” he added. “We don’t do 287g, the county (sheriff’s office) does. If they’re driving without a license, we have to arrest them and take them to jail. It’s out of our hands after that. Our road checks have nothing to do with immigration whatsoever.”

Zahn said the department is unable to target drivers.

“We don’t have any ability to check any kind of immigration status on the side of the road,” he said. “That’s all done by Whitfield County (jail personnel). They have all that equipment up there ... we don’t have any ability to do that... our only concern is traffic violations on the roadway, so we really couldn’t tell you someone’s status as far as that goes.”

Capt. Rick Swiney with the sheriff’s office said their road checks are not planned.

“Our patrol division conducts impromptu safety check points on a weekly basis in all areas of the county,” he said. “So far this year we have conducted 47 of them. They may last from 30 minutes to two hours, according to the amount of activity at the check point. We look for DUIs, no license, no insurance, seat belt use and proper child restraints.”

Swiney said patrol supervisors are authorized to conduct these safety check points “whenever they deem appropriate and will continue to do so.”

On two recent weekends, the sheriff’s office teamed with the Georgia State Patrol to conduct “a joint concentrated traffic enforcement operation.”

Swiney said some of the arrests included four drivers for DUI, five for driving while their licenses were suspended (including a taxi driver), three for underage consumption of alcohol, and three individuals were arrested after illegal narcotics were found in their possession. Several citations were issued for driving without a license, not wearing a seat belt, and failing to have children properly secured in a child restraint.

“The highest speed clocked was a vehicle from Tennessee traveling at 110 mph, which a female was driving with her family, including an eight month old child,” Swiney reported of the stop on I-75. “This female was arrested and required to post bond at the sheriff’s office. The fine for her excessive speed is $448. She will also be required to pay the State of Georgia an additional $200 for the ‘super speeder’ law in effect in Georgia.”

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