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Area law enforcment sees little change with new immigration provision

CONYERS -- Now that a federal judge has cleared the way for a section of Georgia's law targeting illegal immigration to take effect, area law enforcement agencies say they believe the law will have little impact on their day to day operations.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash last Monday signed an order adopting a judgment on the law by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. In a ruling before the law was set to take effect in July 2011, Thrash had issued preliminary injunctions that blocked some parts of the law pending the outcome of a legal challenge filed by activist groups.

The court ruled in August that a part of the law that authorizes law enforcement to verify the immigration status of criminal suspects who fail to produce proper identification should be allowed to go into effect. Thrash's order indicates that law enforcement agencies can immediately begin enforcing what has been dubbed the "show me your papers" provision.

The law does not require officers to check someone's immigration status. Instead, it authorizes them to do so during the investigation of another crime if the suspect cannot produce an acceptable form of ID.

Conyers Police Chief Gene Wilson said the law won't really change his department's enforcement efforts. The CPD won't be focused on determining whether or not suspects are legal residents of the U.S, and witnesses and victims will not be questioned about their legal status, he said.

For instance, Wilson said in the case of a driver who did not have a drivers license, a charge would be filed for driving without a license. Once the suspect was taken to the Rockdale County Jail, Wilson said their legal status might become an issue at that point.

"We are not going to just go out and start hunting folks who are undocumented," said Wilson. "I think the citizens of Conyers have other things they want us to put our priority on."

Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton said his department would take a similar approach.

"We're not actively going to go out and question people just to determine their status," he said. "If they are involved in a criminal act, if we believe there is an immigration issue, we will contact (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.)"

Cotton said he would also be pursuing training for his officers so that they would have a full understanding of the law and what is required of officers in terms of enforcement.

Rockdale County Sheriff's Office Investigator Michael Camp said suspects booked into the Rockdale County Jail might come to the attention of ICE through fingerprint identification if they are already in the ICE system, a procedure that is already in place.

"Currently, if they are booked into the jail, we run their fingerprints through a computerized system," said Camp. "At that point if ICE wants to put a detainer on them, they notify us. (ICE) can see that they've been run in the system, and if there is a flag on their end, they call us and put a hold on that person."

Lt. Keith Crum said the Newton County Sheriff's Office is taking a wait-and-see approach.

"We aren't going to change anything," he said. "We've talked about it before. I think there are several different challenges (to the law) out there, and this (section) is going to be appealed. We are going to wait until it is settled before we take any action."