Senate pushes to allow arrests
By Mary Lou Pickel
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Georgia's Republican U.S. senators want to give police the power to arrest illegal immigrants they might encounter in their communities.
Police officials wonder how that authority might affect their relationship with Latino residents who are victims of crime.
"I'm going to hesitate to say how we would use that bill if it were passed," Cobb County Police spokesman Dana Pierce said. "We'd adjust if necessary."
The "Effective Immigration Enforcement Partnerships Act of 2008," Senate Bill 2717, introduced this week by Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, would give police the power to make arrests for immigration violations.
Those violations are now federal and noncriminal, and are the responsibility of federal immigration agents.
Violators now appear before an administrative immigration judge, not a criminal judge.
Doraville Police Chief John King said he already is working closely with federal agents to remove the "worst of the worst" illegal immigrants from his community. King said he is not sure how the bill would help. Police are facing a lot of unreported crime because the Latino community is afraid to approach the police, he said.
"Are we going to run these people through the database when they call 911 for help? That's what the Latino community feels," King said.
"We spend a good portion of our time convincing them to cooperate with us —- that we're not there to check their papers," he said.
"We're caught in the middle of a horrible situation."
In Cobb, relations between the police and the Latino community are sensitive, Pierce said.
"We obviously understand there is that inherent distrust between police and our Latino community, because of what they have experienced in their country. Those feelings carry over to another country," he said. "Because of their immigration status —- even more so if they're not properly documented —- they become even more suspicious and hesitant."
"When we have a crime victim, immigration status is not an issue to us," Pierce said. "We're interested in finding the perp who stole a wallet out of their car."
The Chambliss-Isakson bill would require the government to expand the type of immigration violations included in the National Crime Information Center's Immigration Violators File. That would give police more information on a person's legal status.
The bill also would dedicate $500 million nationwide to reimburse police agencies for detaining and transporting illegal immigrants to federal custody.
Gwinnett County Sheriff R.L. Butch Conway, is considering a federal program, known as 287(g), that would train his deputies to check the legal status of all inmates who come into his jail. It would flag illegal immigrants for deportation.
Conway says he needs 18 more deputies to do the job, however.
"We'd welcome any funding," sheriff's spokeswoman Stacey Bourbonnais said.