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Thursday, December 16, 2010 - 11:53am

Georgia Wants Illegal Detainees

Federal officials want to transfer hundreds of illegal immigrant detainees out of Alabama to a detention center in south Georgia to save money. But this week the plan angered some Alabama congressmen, and drew Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson into the fray.

By the first of January, about 100 female detainees are scheduled to move from a jail in Gadsden-Alabama to the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla. The facility northeast of Tifton could add new female detainees later.

Alabama lawmakers want to preserve jobs and federal funding their state gets from housing the inmates. But this week Sen. Isakson got assurances from Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, or ICE, that the transfer will happen.

In a statement, an ICE official says the transfer will help streamline the rollout and workload of a new fingerprint-checking program in Georgia, called Secure Communities. ICE says the Irwin County facility is well situated to house detainees from a number of counties that will begin participating in the SC Program during 2011. And the agency says the transfer will save money.

Atlanta immigration lawyer Charles Cook represents five of the detainees set to move. He’s skeptical of federal officials’ reasons for the transfer.

“This is the bigger problem that ICE has is they continue to put individuals in these extraordinarily remote locations, thus depriving them of their right to counsel and causing great despair among detainees, which then gets them to give up on their case and just go home.”

At least a couple thousand suspected illegal immigrants are held in other Georgia facilities -- in Atlanta, Gainesville, and Lumpkin County.