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Thursday, July 31, 2014 - 12:10pm

ACLU calls Georgia Immigration Enforcement Overzealous

The American Civil Liberties Union in Georgia is taking aim at state and federal immigration measures, which the group says tear apart immigrant families and unnecessarily tie up local police.

The left-leaning group says Georgia’s three-year-old immigration law and two federal programs, 287g and Secure Communities, have transformed the role of local law enforcement in detaining undocumented residents. According to a report (see below) the ACLU released Thursday, the number of Georgia residents police handed over to federal immigration authorities between 2007 and 2013 shot up from 75 to 12,952.

Azadeh Shahshahani, with the ACLU, says the report found more than 90 percent of the people detained had dark complexions.

“Law enforcement [officials] are unfortunately going after people of color,” she said after a press conference Thursday where the report was presented. “That is what the data is telling us, and that is called racial profiling, and that is illegal, and that shouldn’t happen in this country.”

The report also found the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency had arrested 2,600 Georgians who were lawful permanent residents when they arrived in America. According to the report, Georgia law enforcement officials have obtained and transmitted 1 million sets of fingerprints that led to the removal of 10,000 people. Less than 25 percent of those removed had committed a Level 1 offense, which is the most serious in ICE’s classification. Most of the people deported had committee minor offenses.

Critics have said ICE is failing to carry out the mandate of the programs, which were originally intended to target immigrants involved in serious crimes, not traffic violations.

But ICE officials dispute the notion that the agency is only focused on low-level offenders.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has significantly shifted immigration enforcement resources over the last decade to focus on the identification and removal of convicted criminal aliens,” reads a statement issued by Vincent Picard with ICE’s Atlanta field office. “ICE is charged with enforcing federal immigration laws against individuals who are unlawfully present in the United States. As a matter of policy, the agency has determined that the best use of the resources appropriated by Congress for interior immigration enforcement is the identification and removal of convicted criminals, egregious immigration law violators and recent border crossers.”

He added, “ICE’s focus on enforcing the law against convicted criminals will obviously result in increased immigration enforcement activity at locations where convicted criminals are to be found, such as jails and prisons.”

The ACLU report doesn’t include information on deportations, which is the final step in the process. According to ICE, the Atlanta field office removed 14,744 people in 2013, of which 11, 534 were convicted criminals.

As part of the report, the group calls for repealing Georgia’s state immigration law, known as House Bill 87.

Phil Kent is a member of the Immigration Enforcement Review Board, which was created under HB 87. He says the law is working, and the ACLU is out of step with how most Georgians feel about immigration.

“Those of us in the enforcement community are pleased at the level of local cooperation with federal immigration control and enforcement,” he said. “They, of course, don’t like that.”

He said calling for repeal is “a joke,” and he said the majority of Georgians are in favor of enforcing immigration laws.

Kent says the enforcement board has received only six complaints since it was created three years ago. Last month, it cited a youth program in DeKalb County for failing to screen participants since it’s a public benefit.