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Atlanta Police Still Haven't Trained to Enforce New Anti-Immigration Law

Atlanta Police Still Haven't Trained to Enforce New Anti-Immigration Law

Atlanta Journal Constitution via YellowBrix

June 22, 2011

ATLANTA – Many major Atlanta area police departments have not started training officers to enforce Georgia’s tough new anti-illegal immigration law, which is supposed to take effect July 1.

Among them are the DeKalb and Fulton county police departments and the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the state police. Cherokee County will start training Wednesday; the Atlanta Police Department refused to discuss the question.

Part of the problem is uncertainty over the fate of the law, which is being challenged in federal court. Some law enforcement agencies say they won’t train their officers until after the judge rules on whether it can take effect. Meanwhile, some local police call the law vague and various agencies are divided on the powers it would give them.

The prospect of uneven enforcement was on the judge’s mind Monday as he questioned lawyers for the state and the groups that are challenging the law. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash said local authorities might pick and choose whom to target for investigation, favoring some people and not others.

Thrash said he will rule by July 1 on whether the law should be put on hold.

In an interview with Channel 2 Action News Tuesday, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal dismissed concerns about uniform enforcement. “I can’t think of a single law that probably doesn’t get enforced in a different fashion from one jurisdiction to the other, whether it be speeding laws, whether it be any other kind of law that is mandated from the state level,” said Deal, who signed the new immigration law last month.

“I don’t think that invalidates the law itself,” he said.

Charles Kuck, an Atlanta-area immigration attorney who is fighting the law in court, disagreed. “What you are going to see is wildly inconsistent enforcement of this law across 159 different counties and a thousand other municipalities in this state,” said Kuck, past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "And that is inherently wrong.”

However, Deal said the state is only doing its job. “The intent of the law is to make sure those who are in our state are here legally,” he said. “States have a right to do what they can to protect their taxpayers.”

For University of Arizona immigration law professor Gabriel Chin, the lack of standardized, in-depth training creates a concern that police will trample people’s constitutional rights. Chin said that in Arizona, the first state to enact a similar law, a state agency provided extensive training for local police.

“I can’t believe major police agencies don’t have plans,” Chin said. “This is complicated… It’s not something you can cover in a roll call in five minutes.”

Several Atlanta area agencies aren’t starting from scratch. Cherokee, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties participate in a federal fingerprint-sharing program aimed at deporting violent illegal immigrants. Cobb and Gwinnett also participate in the federal 287(g) program, which empowers sheriff’s deputies to investigate the immigration status of people jailed for other crimes.

The new law substantially enhances the ability of officers in the field, however, to question and apprehend people whom they have probable cause to suspect are in the country illegally.

The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police emailed a 6-page training guide on the new law to about 800 police chiefs and top level commanders across the state about 45 days ago, said executive director Frank Rotondo. Departments are not mandated to use the guide.

Several departments said they are still in an analysis mode or awaiting Judge Thrash’s ruling.

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