Clayton County Immigrants Thankful for Sheriff Hill’s Practice Changes
(APN) ATLANTA — Immigrants’ rights advocates in Georgia celebrated two major victories in recent days. First, on Wednesday, November 19, 2014, Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill’s office announced it will no longer detain undocumented immigrants longer than usual in order for U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to apprehend and deport them.
The following day, U.S. President Barack Obama announced his decision to use executive action to protect five million undocumented immigrants nationally from deportation, among other reforms to the country’s immigration system.
“This policy change is the result of years of organizing by undocumented people, who, against many odds and with great sacrifice, came forward to insist on an immigration policy that recognizes the humanity of our communities,” said Adelina Nicholls, Executive Director of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR), in response to the President’s announcement.
APN has previously reported on immigrants’ rights activism for several years, including several protests that have been among the largest of any progressive gatherings in Georgia during the same period.
GLAHR is a member of GA Not1More, a coalition which includes Southerners on New Ground, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia, Project South, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Jobs With Justice Atlanta, among others.
The coalition has approached law enforcement and elected officials of several Metro Atlanta counties to work toward opting out of ICE’s Secure Communities Program, which 290 counties across the U.S. have now done.
The program, established in 2008, gives ICE access to the fingerprint databases of state and local law enforcement agencies.
When ICE finds that someone who has been arrested is undocumented, the agency issues a detainer request asking local law enforcement to detain the individual for up to 48 hours longer than they otherwise would, so that ICE can take them into federal custody.
According to ICE, this enables the agency to deport dangerous criminals, but in practice it means that people arrested on minor charges like driving without a license, are torn away from their families and communities.
It also deters undocumented immigrants from seeking help from the police when they are victims of a crime, or witness one.
“Since the adoption of 287(g) and Secure Communities and passage of HB 87 in Georgia, the hyper-policing, detention, and deportation of undocumented immigrants have increased tremendously,” Azadeh Shahshahani, National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project Director with the ACLU of Georgia, told APN.
287(g) is another ICE program, which gives immigration enforcement authority to state and local police. HB 87 is legislation that created harsh anti-immigrant laws in Georgia in 2011.
“These failed policies and programs create mistrust, tear families apart, and damage the State’s economy,” Shahshahani said.
The Clayton County Sheriff’s decision to no longer honor ICE’s detainer requests comes on the heels of a resolution Fulton County Commissioners passed in September 2014 that urged Sheriff Ted Jackson not to comply with ICE.
It is not immediately clear what impacts, if any, President Obama’s executive action will have on the role of local law enforcement in aiding ICE deportations. The President announced he is ending the Secure Communities Program at least in name, and replacing it with the Priority Enforcement Program.
Under the new program, ICE will continue all of the same practices, but will supposedly focus only on undocumented immigrants arrested for serious crimes.
GA Not1More will continue pushing for Georgia’s local law enforcement agencies to refuse collaboration with ICE.
Coalition members rallied at the Atlanta City Detention Center on Friday, November 21, 2014 to express their continuing commitment to fighting for the rights of undocumented immigrants and to celebrate the five million people who now have a pathway to legal status.
About fifty people gathered with banners, signs, and drums. The noise of the drumming and chanting was loud enough to bring one detainee to a third-story window, where the person waved in time with the drumming and later held up a piece of paper. If there was a message written on it, it was too far away to discern.
Lucino Gopar was among those drumming. He came to the United States as a child with his parents, and has obtained temporary legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Gopar was a student at Freedom University, and has been active in the undocumented youth movement in Georgia. He said he was excited but also saddened by President Obama’s announcement.
Saddened, because the new rules only apply to undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States for more than five years and have a child who is a citizen or a Legal Permanent Resident.
“I was expecting my parents to qualify, but they don’t,” Gopar said. “Five million is a lot of people, but that’s only half of the undocumented people in this country. I feel like Obama could have done more.”
Still, Gopar is excited about other family members and friends who will be eligible to apply for legal status.
“There are people at my church who were so desperate. They were afraid to go to work because they could be arrested. A lot of them will benefit from this. We took the first step. Now we have to get everyone on the same page.”