Local officials preparing for immigrant law

Photo by WEAU Production

Photo by WEAU Production

CONYERS -- Barring a federal court injunction, Georgia's new illegal immigration law will take effect July 1, and area law enforcement agencies say they are preparing to address any aspects of the law that will affect them.

A federal judge has said he will rule before July 1 on an injunction against Georgia's anti-illegal immigration law. If the law takes effect, representatives of local law enforcement agencies say that only a portion of it will affect the way they carry out their duties.

House Bill 87, signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal last month, gives law enforcement agencies authority to investigate the immigration status of some suspects and arrest illegal immigrants. Other portions of the law require employers to verify citizenship of new hires through the federal database E-verify.

On the law enforcement side, Newton County Sheriff Ezell Brown said his agency will provide training on HB 87 for deputies and officers in the field when and if the law takes effect.

"The corrections side (of the NCSO) is already trained" to deal with illegal immigrants, Brown said. "For law enforcement, we will have a standardized approach as to how we will address it through training."

Brown said his agency is already in partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and is complying with the Secure Communities Initiative which, he said, "has modernized the criminal alien enforcement process."

"It supports public safety by strengthening efforts to identify and remove the most dangerous criminal aliens from the United States," Brown said.

Under the Secure Communities Initiative, the staff at the Newton County Detention Center uses a database to determine the immigration status of inmates who cannot provide valid identification.

"Secure Communities is built on three parallels that address the frequent challenges associated with accurately identifying and successfully removing these individuals," Brown said.

Rockdale County Sheriff Jeff Wigington said Wednesday his department is poised to take action if HB 87 takes effect.

"If (the law) is in fact carried out, we will be prepared for it," he said. "We will have in-service training right before it goes into effect July 1. Everything is kind of on hold until we know how it will go in the courts."

Wigington said law enforcement agencies will still have to have probable cause to believe a crime has been committed before officers have the right to question a person's citizenship status.

The Covington Police Department is taking a similar approach.

"We're like everyone else," said Police Chief Stacey Cotton. "We are going to wait and see what the judge's ruling is. And what we can do then is give officers a working knowledge of what the law is and what our requirements are. We will go forward with advance training once that (information) is available to us."

Cotton said there are some aspects of the law that have yet to be worked out for local law enforcement officers, including how they are to determine if a suspect is an illegal alien. Under the law, officers with probable cause have the authority to investigate a person's immigration status if that person cannot produce valid identification.

"How do officers, on the side of the road, determine immigration status?" Cotton asked. "It's not like running a drivers license. There is a database out there that tells you if people are in the country illegally, but that's a federal database and we don't have access to it."

Conyers Police Department Capt. Scott Freeman said his department is also taking steps to prepare for enactment of the law, but there is only so much to be done until the judge's ruling is handed down.

"We have gotten a brief of the interpretation of what the law will mean as far as law enforcement is concerned from the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police," Freeman said. "We have received that and have sent back a question as to what type of training is going to be available to us to train our officers if this goes into effect and how quickly will that training be provided to us."