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Georgia Deputies Search Jail Cells for Illegal Immigrants

June 12, 2007  | 

The Cobb County (Ga.) Sheriff's Office has adopted the policy of screening jail inmates to determine if they are illegal immigrants—marking the department as the first in Georgia to embrace the nascent process. Only a handful of law enforcement agencies nationwide currently embrace the practice.

The inmate screening move occurred on the heels of the completion of an intensive four-week training program with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Herndon, Va. Six Cobb County deputies participated in the event, according to the Associated Press.

Trained in areas such as immigration law, cross-cultural communication, civil rights, criminal law, document examination, alien processing, and identification and enforcement, the six newly empowered deputy graduates can determine an inmate's residency status by comparing fingerprints with those held in the ICE and FBI databases.

An ICE supervisor will have final approval on whether a retainer should be placed on a person with questionable immigration status.

"I need to know who comes into this jail and who goes out," says Neil Warren, Cobb County's Sheriff. "Just like any individual for whatever reason who's arrested and comes into Cobb Jail, their fingerprints will be placed into the database."

Warren added that as of Monday, of the 2,155 inmates at Cobb County Jail, approximately 324 were foreign nationals and that 63 of those inmates had been labeled as persons of interest to federal immigration authorities.

Felicia Skinner, ICE's acting field director for detention and removal operations, calls local law enforcement agencies the front lines of the federal government's illegal immigration effort. "Oftentimes, county jails are the first responders," says Skinner. "They encounter these individuals in their facilities who pose a threat to national security and also to our communities. So it's a public safety issue."

While Warren contends his goal is merely to remove criminals from the street and that racial profiling is not a part of the program, Cobb County Police Chief George Hatfield blames much of the city's increased crime rate upon the undocumented immigrant community.

"Armed robberies in our county are up 19 percent. We had a decrease in homicides from '05 to '06. Unfortunately, this year they're up and a lot of it is in the Latino community," says Hatfield. "A lot of it is being perpetrated by folks who are undocumented who are here."

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