Mon., July 2, 2012 3:50pm (EDT)

Officials Probe Immigration In Vidalia
By Orlando Montoya
Updated: 2 years ago

SAVANNAH, Ga.  —  
Immigration is a top concern in the Vidalia area.  Onions are easily bruised and can't be picked with machines.  They have to be picked by hand.  And that has attracted many immigrants over the years. (Photo cheeses via Flickr.)
Immigration is a top concern in the Vidalia area. Onions are easily bruised and can't be picked with machines. They have to be picked by hand. And that has attracted many immigrants over the years. (Photo cheeses via Flickr.)
The state's Immigration Enforcement Review Board is probing whether Vidalia is harboring illegal workers.

It's the new panel's first investigation.

State lawmakers created the panel last year to look into complaints about illegal immigration.

An Emmanuel County man says, Vidalia allows illegal immigrants to live and work in the city.

The complaint revolves around how police treat undocumented migrants stopped for minor violations.

Board member Phil Kent says, such complaints are exactly why the panel was created.

"Let me just stress that this is a preliminary investigation to see if there should be an investigation," Kent says. "So, we had a back and forth if this was worthwhile, but in the end, all of us on the panel agreed."

One board member feared, the panel was being asked to "chase rabbits."

A local advocate for immigrants, Andrea Hinojosa says, Toombs County police stopped calling the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement or ICE on every undocumented migrant stopped for minor violations.

"I know for a fact that Toombs County Sheriff Department, although they're calling ICE on people, they're not just calling ICE on everybody that's undocumented," Hinojosa says. "Now, if that was the case, can you imagine where we would be at right now?"

She says, the police are concentrating on dangerous criminals and repeat offenders.

The state's Immigration Enforcement Review Board also is looking into charges that local officials are turning a blind eye to illegal immigrants working for a local manufacturing company.