Still steaming over the pace of a federal program targeting illegal immigration, seven Republican congressmen from Georgia have invited the head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for a meeting on Capitol Hill.
At issue is how the federal government is rolling out a fingerprint-sharing program aimed at deporting violent illegal immigrants. The congressmen have been pushing for the “Secure Communities” program to go statewide faster in Georgia. It is operating in only nine of the state’s 159 counties now.
ICE officials have indicated they can’t move faster with it here because of limited manpower and other resources. But the AJC reported last month that Hawaii and West Virginia are two of more than two dozen states that have fewer illegal immigrants than Georgia but are still getting plugged into the $200 million program, some at a faster pace.
“Our question to you now is simple,” Rep. Phil Gingrey, of Marietta, and six other Republican congressmen wrote Assistant Secretary for ICE John Morton Thursday. “Why would you utilize such valuable and seemingly scarce resources to fully activate Secure Communities in such states as Hawaii and West Virginia… before Georgia.”
Hawaii and West Virginia are each estimated to be home to fewer than 10,000 illegal immigrants, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington-based nonpartisan research organization that uses U.S. census data for its estimates.
“It seems as if ICE is not responsibly combating the ever-mounting problem of illegal immigration in this nation,” Gingrey wrote, “in order to best utilize the resources it has been granted by Congress.”
The letter concludes by inviting Morton to Capitol Hill so the congressmen could “assist” him in rolling out the program “more swiftly and more efficiently.”
A spokeswoman for ICE issued the following statement: “ICE has received a letter from members of the Georgia delegation and will respond directly to those Congress members through the appropriate channels.”
ICE officials have said the program will be operating across all of metro Atlanta by the end of September. Forty-six other Georgia counties — including some of the state’s more populous ones — are scheduled to join by the end of September. Among them are Coweta, Douglas, Fayette, Henry, Paulding and Rockdale.
The screenings are already taking place in Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett, Hall, Muscogee and Whitfield counties. All of Georgia’s 159 counties are expected to participate in the program by the end of September 2013.
Without the Secure Communities program in place, law enforcement officials could unwittingly release illegal immigrants back into their communities after they have completed sentences for any crimes committed in the U.S.
Local sheriffs have praised the fingerprint checks, saying they help prevent criminals from deceiving them with aliases. But critics have pointed to ICE’s own statistics, which show most of the more than 64,000 people deported through the program are nonviolent criminals and others who have not committed any crimes other than being in the country illegally.