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What Would Texas Look Like Under SB 4 Law? Look at Gwinnett County, Georgia

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Right now, the developing crisis in immigration reform is Texas’ SB 4 law, the new anti-immigrant state legislation which will lead to more racial profiling, discrimination, detention, and deportations. One of SB 4’s provisions allows local law enforcement officers to ask for the immigration status of those they’ve pulled over. What seems like a simple permission is hugely damaging in practice — as a new analysis this week from The Intercept shows.

Mass deportations in Gwinnett County, Georgia

The Intercept looked at Gwinnett County, Georgia, which has a 287(g) agreement and holds immigrants pulled over by local police for pickup by ICE. As a result, thousands of immigrants over the years have been jailed, detained, and deported for nothing more than driving without a valid license. As the Intercept wrote:

Local police there flagged nearly 500 people to ICE for potential immigration violations between February and April. Only a fraction of those were linked to charges of serious crime. Of all pending charges that accompanied the referrals, 70 percent were the result of traffic-related violations — most for driving without a license, according to county data on jail admissions compiled by The Intercept.

Got that? Counties like Gwinett practically create a deportation conveyor belt that starts when a local police officer pulls over an undocumented immigrant (possibly as a result of racial profiling). The driver is found to be without the possession of a valid driver’s license and is then jailed. ICE puts out a detainer for him or her, and the police hold the person until ICE can pick him or her up for detention and deportation. The Obama Administration had moved away from such pipelines toward deportation, but Trump seems to be encouraging them: a recent study in Naples, Florida found that three-fourths of immigrants picked up had done nothing besides commit minor traffic offenses, while the Washington Post found that arrests of non-criminal immigrants have doubled under Trump. Trump may claim that he is only removing immigrants who have committed crimes, but the reality is that he’s deporting mothers and fathers who are just trying to get to school and work.

14,000 sent to ICE since 2009

The Intercept findings support the idea that immigrant detentions and deportations over nothing more than traffic offenses have increased over the last few months:

The arrests mark a nearly five-fold increase in the number of immigrants held for ICE at the Gwinnett County Jail over the same period last year. Between February and April 2016, local law enforcement referred just over 100 people to federal immigration authorities. Only 36 percent of accompanying charges were traffic related.

“People would be pulled over six months ago, but it wouldn’t lead to an interaction with ICE,” said Tracie L. Klinke, an immigration attorney in Marietta, Georgia. “What we’ve seen over the last few months is a quiet resurgence where traffic stops are leading to contact with ICE.” […]

More than 14,000 people detained at the jail have been referred to federal immigration agents since 2009, close to double the next highest facility in Georgia, according to data analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, run by Syracuse University.  […]

Infractions at times were so minor, from a tiny crack in a windshield to failure to turn on headlights within 30 minutes of sunset, to prompt questions of whether race factored into the arrest. “Some tickets would make you scratch your head and wonder: Why was this person stopped?” said Luis Alemany, an immigration attorney based in the northwest suburbs of Atlanta.

Gwinnett sheriff: immigrants deported because they “don’t quite blend”

Alarmingly, Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway has said outright that public safety is not the only goal of the county’s mass deportation pipeline (for the record, policies like Gwinnett’s make communities less safe). He’s specifically said that racism and fear of “the other” has played a part in the county’s deportation policies:

Residents were equally if not more concerned with how immigrant cultures “don’t quite blend” with suburban life, the sheriff told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution the day 287(g) was implemented. “People … complain about the quality of life in their subdivision. They are concerned about how their property values have been lowered by what they believe to be illegal aliens not keeping up their properties, having too many vehicles parked in yards and too many people living in a house.”

Gwinnett County is estimated to be home to some 71,000 undocumented immigrants, while Georgia as a whole is only estimated to have an undocumented population of 377,000. Yet Gwinnett’s traffic stop / no driver’s license / jail / detention pipeline has led to 14,000 people being referred to ICE since 2009, many over nothing but traffic violations. If Texas’ SB 4 law is allowed to be fully implemented, this could be the reality coming to a state of 1.5 million immigrants.

Read the full story on Gwinnett County, Georgia’s arrests of immigrants at the Intercept.