National News

ICE chief: Ga. cities that refuse to cooperate put 'my officers' at risk

Posted April 27, 2018 2:14 p.m. EDT

ATLANTA -- The Trump administration's point person for immigration enforcement pushed back hard this week against a growing number of Georgia communities that are limiting cooperation with his agency amid the federal government's crackdown on illegal immigration.

Those Georgia communities could create risks for themselves and others by releasing unauthorized immigrants from their jails without first notifying U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Thomas Homan, ICE's acting director.

Under those scenarios, Homan said, ICE must search for them on the outside where they can arm themselves and commit more crimes. It is also possible during those situations, Homan said, that ICE could make more arrests while encountering other immigrants living here without legal status.

"It really puts my officers in the community at risk," said Homan, who visited Atlanta to attend an International Association of Chiefs of Police conference. "My officers now have to knock on a door. It's a matter of time before we knock on the wrong door and one of my men or women don't come home at night."

This month the Clarke County Sheriff's Office in Athens, Georgia, announced it would no longer honor U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers unless they are accompanied by a "judicial warrant or an order from a court."

Such detainers amount to requests to hold people suspected of being in the country illegally for up to 48 hours beyond the time they are scheduled to be released so ICE can pick them up and seek to deport them. Critics say detaining people for extra time under these circumstances can violate their Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizure.

Clarke's decision followed similar moves last year by the Georgia cities of Clarkston and Decatur. In 2014, Fulton County commissioners passed a resolution urging Sheriff Ted Jackson to block ICE from using county facilities for "investigative interviews or other purposes." That same year, the Clayton County Sheriff's Office announced it would no longer comply with ICE detainers. And the DeKalb County Sheriff's Office said it wouldn't honor those detainers without a warrant or "sufficient probable cause."

Homan's visit to Atlanta came a day after he accused New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of both "grandstanding" and insulting ICE's officers. Blasting ICE's "reckless" and "illegal" enforcement tactics in New York, Cuomo sent ICE a cease and desist order this week, threatening to sue. Meanwhile, the governor signed an executive order prohibiting ICE from making arrests in state facilities unless they have judicial warrants or judicial orders.

"The governor of New York does not prevent me from doing my job," said Homan, who has spent more than three decades in law enforcement with stints as a police officer in New York and as a U.S. Border Patrol agent. "We are not going to cease and desist in enforcing federal law. That is my job."

Homan also addressed Tuesday's federal court ruling that says the Trump administration must resume accepting new applications for an Obama-era program that temporarily shields young immigrants from deportation. President Donald Trump moved last year to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. That decision is now stalled amid federal court challenges.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge John Bates said Trump's claim that DACA is unlawful was "virtually unexplained." There are 15,700 people in the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell area who have been approved for DACA, federal records show.

Homan said Congress must address the plight of DACA recipients while eliminating "loopholes" in the nation's laws that are contributing to illegal immigration.

"There shouldn't be a clean DACA fix without talking about the underlying reasons that caused DACA to begin with," he said. "Congress needs to fix it."

Further, Homan talked about the spread of the 287(g) federal immigration enforcement program in Georgia and across the nation. This year, ICE quietly signed new 287(g) agreements to team up with the sheriff's offices in Bartow and Floyd counties as well as the Georgia Department of Corrections.

The program, named after the 1996 federal law that authorized it, deputizes state and local officials to help ICE investigate and apprehend people facing deportation.

In January of last year, Trump called for an expansion of the program. Since then, it has grown rapidly. Before July, there were 42 287(g) agreements nationwide. As of last month, there were 75. Four other counties in Georgia -- Cobb, Gwinnett, Hall and Whitfield -- already participate.

ICE, Homan said, is weighing applications from several other Georgia counties that want to join the program, though he didn't identify them.

"We will look at them very carefully to make sure they are the right match for us," he said.

Homan also addressed the fate of the Folkston ICE Processing Center, a privately run immigration detention center located near the Georgia-Florida border. In November, ICE moved to shut it down, citing "low usage." Since then, the Trump administration has been negotiating to shrink the $116.7 million no-bid contract for the center's operation. Those contract discussions are continuing, he said.

"It is being reviewed right now," he said. "They are talking about how much, how soon, how big and if at all."

Jeremy Redmon writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Email: jredmon(at)ajc.com.

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