By Jim Simpson
The April 23 Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners public hearing began at 7 p.m. and lasted until just past midnight the next morning. Those who sat through the entire five-hour marathon meeting were witness to some dramatic moments. Sandwiched in between were dozens of rezoning and special use permit requests, zoning condition changes, a neighborhood speed hump request, and construction of cell towers known as “Monopines” thinly disguised as pine trees.
Chairman Charlotte Nash opened with proclamations to representatives of the Gwinnett Family Child Care Association (GFCCA.com) celebrating Childcare Provider Appreciation Day (May 10), and to members of the Lawrenceville chapter for Boys and Girls Club Week (April 8-12). Then, Commissioner Jace Brooks congratulated players from the Lanier High School Girls Basketball team for their class AAAAAA state championship.
Lawyers representing developers stated their cases for new subdivisions despite emotional arguments from a dozen residents against overdevelopment and increased traffic in their established neighborhood nearby. The Commissioners listened attentively and then approved the developments, much to the residents’ dismay.
Near the end of the evening, a large group stepped one-by-one to the podium to speak to the Board about a divisive immigration issue. Speakers included representatives from Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AdvancingJustice-Atlanta.org), social workers, a candidate in Georgia’s 7th District congressional race, and a retired Gwinnett County Police Department (GCPD) officer now running for Gwinnett County Sheriff. All asked for the county to stop funding the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO) participation in the 287(g) program, which is up for renewal on June 30, 2019. Proponents say it helps remove criminals from local communities who shouldn’t even be in the country. The GCSO is one of just six agencies in Georgia — and just 77 jurisdictions nationwide — to participate in the program and has done so since 2009.
The program, named for Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, lets local law enforcement contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to join the program. Named after the 1996 federal law that authorizes it, the program deputizes state and local officials to help ICE investigate, apprehend, detain and transport people facing deportation.
The program’s detractors say it is costly for localities, doesn’t focus on serious criminals, breaks families apart, harms the relationship between police and local communities, infringes on people’s Fourth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution, and promotes racial profiling.
Even if the Board decides to defund 287(g), Sheriff Butch Conway can continue the program using the GCSO’s own budget. Conway, of course, vows to continue 287(g) but has yet to say if he will seek re-election in 2020.
Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood, Policy Director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta, said that the Commission can still speak out and make a statement on whether or not they agree with the program, regardless of the GCSO’s plans.
One speaker, Curtis Clemons, a 30-year veteran of the GCPD, retiring as assistant chief, said “I’ve seen first-hand how immigrants are reluctant to come forward to file reports about crimes against them, and reluctant to come forward and be witnesses. That reduces [law enforcement’s] ability to solve crimes.” Clemons later told the North Gwinnett Voice that the program “drives a tremendous wedge between law enforcement and the immigrant community. This is not a criminal matter, it’s a civil matter.”
In a written statement, District 4 Commissioner Marlene Fosque said, “Even though our Board of Commissioners are not required to approve or renew the 287(g) contract, I took it as part of my due diligence to visit Sheriff Conway a few weeks ago. However, I am still in the gathering 287(g) information stages from different citizens’ perspectives too.”
Chairman Nash and Sheriff Conway did not respond when we reached out to them for comment.
Watch the April 23-24 public hearing on TVgwinnett: http://ec4.cc/d249299c or go to GwinnettCounty.com and searching for “TVGwinnett.”