Erik S. Lesser / AP

Georgia teams up with ICE to target Latinos

New report documents discriminatory practices by law enforcement

August 8, 2014 6:00AM ET

In June 2011 while traveling on Lawrenceville Highway in Gwinnett County, Georgia, Bonnie Horton and her husband were stopped at a roadblock and surrounded by uniformed officers and police vehicles. Bonnie remembers seeing at least five cars pulled over on the side of the road and young children and babies in at least two of those cars. 

All cars proceeding on that road were stopped at the roadblock. Most cars stopped for about a minute. As Bonnie and her husband approached the roadblock, they had their windows rolled down. She witnessed a man being taken out of one of the cars by officers, possibly being arrested. Alongside the same car stood a woman with a baby. Another car next to theirs had drivers and passengers inside who appeared to be Latino. She heard an officer asking them to provide proof of citizenship. However, Bonnie and her husband, who are Caucasian, were only asked to show proof of insurance and residence in Gwinnett County. They showed their driver’s licenses as evidence of residency, and were allowed to proceed without incident.

In 2011, Georgia passed HB 87, which empowers local police to investigate the immigration status of individuals where they have probable cause that an offense, including a driving infraction, has been committed. Since the law’s passage, suspicions about discriminatory treatment of Latinos and immigrants because of their physical appearance has become commonplace in the state. A recent report by several immigrants’ rights advocacy organizations — including the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, and the NYU Law School Immigrant Rights Clinic — confirms such suspicions.

Based on a review of data obtained from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the report demonstrates that discriminatory actions are ongoing. From 2007 to 2013, ICE’s practice of requesting the extended incarceration of an individual because of suspicion about their immigration status — known as ICE detainers — rose from 75 in 2007 to 12,952 in 2013 (through June 2013) — an increase of 17,169 percent. Moreover, 96 percent of those targeted in 2013 are of “dark or medium complexion,” up from 66.7 percent in 2007.

In many ways, the data affirm the continuing injustice suffered by immigrant communities in Georgia. Local and state law enforcement have relied on three main sets of initiatives to apprehend, detain and remove immigrants: an ICE partnership agreement between Georgia law enforcement agencies and the federal government known as the 287(g) program, the federal Secure Communities program and HB 87. The implementation of each of these initiatives has been accompanied by a disproportionate focus on people of color, stoking concerns of racial profiling.

Racial profiling under HB 87

The harmful effects of HB 87 have been felt across the state of Georgia. Immigrants and people of color feel that they have been subjected to racial profiling and other abusive policing practices.

ICE records indicate that an estimated 48,135 American-born children had a parent arrested by ICE in Georgia and at least 17,497 individuals had a spouse arrested by ICE from 2007 to 2013.

As witnessed during forums organized by the ACLU of Georgia and the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights around the state, fear and mistrust of the police is commonplace. Community members reported avoiding certain areas of the state because of police surveillance and harassment. Others say they are reluctant to call or avoid calling the police to report crime because of their immigration status — fearing they will be detained or investigated. This is troubling, but not surprising. Many law enforcement analysts and police chiefs have cautioned against putting local police in the position of implementing federal immigration laws, saying the practice will alienate communities of color and endanger the public.

The newly released report confirms that increasing cooperation between ICE and local law enforcement has in fact disproportionately affected people of color. In 2007, ICE identified 66.7 percent of individuals on whom it placed an immigration hold at state and local jails as having dark or medium complexion. In 2013 that number rose to 96.4 percent. In comparison, from 2007 to 2013, ICE placed an immigration hold on only 1.6 percent of those with fair or light complexion.

From 2007 to June 2013, ICE arrests in Georgia rose from 1,533 in 2007 to 16,143 in 2013 (through June 2013) — an increase of 953 percent. The figure includes all individuals apprehended by ICE officials in Georgia and those who were arrested by local police and transferred to ICE. It is important to note that the surge in arrests is not a result of an increase in the undocumented population but instead is a reflection of a dramatic expansion in enforcement. 

Immigration quotas

In light of recent directives by ICE, which require immigration enforcement field offices to meet certain deportation quotas, the implementation of HB 87 has been even more harmful to Georgians. It led to an increase in checkpoints that target drivers as well as other occupants in a car.

ICE denies the deportation quota requirement, but documents obtained by the ACLU of North Carolina pursuant to a public records request prove the contrary. They highlight local officers’ aggressive targeting of undocumented community members to meet the agency's deportation quota — estimated at more than 400,000 people a year.

The documents show checkpoints are a key part of ICE’s strategy to boost deportations, which according to community members are concentrated in Latino neighborhoods. The checkpoints have turned daily commutes to work or even trips to grocery stores into lengthy ordeals complete with harassment for anyone with brown skin complexion. ICE insists it does not organize the checkpoints, but its officers “would be set up [at checkpoints] waiting to interview all individuals that [they] deem necessary.”

The dramatic increase in ICE arrests is a result of a growing collaboration between local law enforcement and ICE. State and local police, corrections officers, probation officials and other officials communicate with ICE about all Georgia residents with whom they come into contact, including witnesses and victims of crime.

Many Georgian families have been torn apart as a result of these practices. While the numbers of children and spouses who lost family members to deportation is underreported, ICE records indicate that an estimated 48,135 American-born children had a parent arrested by ICE in Georgia and at least 17,497 individuals had a spouse arrested by ICE from 2007 to 2013.

As the rest of the nation focuses on creating more welcoming communities for immigrants, it is unfortunate that the state of Georgia — acting in collusion with ICE — is busy creating roadblocks for the many residents living and working in our state. State lawmakers should immediately repeal the racial profiling law, HB 87, in its entirety. Local communities in Georgia should also join the more than 165 jurisdictions around the country, including cities such as Chicago, Newark, Philadelphia and the state of California, that have prohibited the unconstitutional prolonging of people’s detention on the basis of detainers.

Azadeh Shahshahani is a human rights attorney based in Atlanta and a past president of the National Lawyers Guild.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.

Related News

ACLU, Immigration

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter