Latinos claim rights violated

By Kelly Brooks, Marietta Daily Journal, October 12, 2007

Advocates for the Latino community said they are investigating alleged incidents in which Cobb public safety officials have violated due process for Latinos and immigrants, but Cobb officials maintain the county enforces the law without regard to race.

"The sheriff thinks he's living in the wild-wild West," said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials. "It appears that they've stepped up with any contact they make with immigrants, particularly undocumented immigrants. They're sending them to jail so they can deport them."

Gonzalez sent a mass e-mail Thursday that noted "several jurisdictions" in which individuals, who were victims of crime or in car accidents, contacted police, who then questioned the individuals' immigration status and detained them.

"Unfortunately, this is going to harm public safety for Cobb County residents, because they are driving the immigrant community underground," Gonzalez said. "Crime, suspicious activity isn't going to be reported."

Gonzalez further wrote that family members are not being allowed to visit people who have been arrested for minor traffic violations.

"Family members are afraid," the e-mail reads. "Cobb County Jail officials have allegedly told people visiting these arrestees that because they are 'illegal' they have no rights."

Chief Deputy Sheriff Lynda Coker said she didn't know where Gonzalez was getting his information.

"The personnel at the jail work very hard to make sure rules and regulations are understood," Ms. Coker said. "I would like to know the name of an employee who told anyone who came into that facility inquiring about a family or loved one that they have no rights because they are not legal, because that is absolutely not the case. That kind of an allegation causes me great concern because it is off the cuff."

Ms. Coker said normally, when an inmate is brought into custody and then detained, after five days, they put individuals on a list for visitation. Visitors must have identification when they come to the jail.

"It's not just an open facility like a hospital where people just come and decide they want to visit a family member," she said.

Ms. Coker added that with 2,300 inmates, "it's an enormous process to try to allow visitation," which varies based on where inmates are located in the jail.

"We generally are very generous with visitation," Ms. Coker said. "All inmates are afforded the same opportunities, regardless of their charges."

Ms. Coker said as of Oct. 8, the jail had 447 inmates in custody who had a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold on them. Since July, the Sheriff's Office has been keeping statistics on jailed illegal immigrants and is now trying to develop a monthly report.

Between July 1 and 23, Cobb jail officials and ICE interviewed 86 inmates, placed immigration holds on 68 and started deportation proceedings against 42.

The Cobb Sheriff's Office in early June began screening Cobb Jail inmates to identify illegal immigrants and initiate deportation procedures after several deputies completed federal certification to do so, per Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1996

Cobb Chairman Sam Olens said the Cobb Police Department and Sheriff's Office treat everyone the same, whether Hispanic, Caucasian, or any other ethnic group.

"It is my expectation that (Cobb public safety officials) will fully comply with the laws of this state and country," Olens said. "There is no distinction between how anybody is treated once they are in that jail."...

Organizations like those of Ms. Shore and Gonzalez are in the process of organizing alleged discriminatory and unconstitutional practices spurred by 287(g) and the implementation of state Senate Bill 529, the Immigration Compliance Act, which passed in the 2006 legislative session...

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