U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials carrying out a removal flight to Guatemala on Aug. 20. Photo by Keith Gardner, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

ICE deportations up 5% in Georgia, Carolinas amid influx on border

Deportations from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Atlanta area of operations — it encompasses Georgia and the Carolinas — increased last fiscal year but arrests fell amid an influx of people illegally crossing the southwest border.

The 5% increase in deportations hews closely to the 4% jump nationwide during the same time frame. Also called “removals,” deportations rose in Georgia and the Carolinas from 13,727 to 14,473 between fiscal years 2018 and 2019, ICE announced Wednesday.

But ICE said immigration-related arrests in Georgia and the Carolinas dropped 13% from last fiscal year. That also tracks closely to the 10% drop nationwide. The fiscal year ended Sept. 30.

Sixty percent of those expelled from the region last fiscal year were “convicted criminals,” according to ICE, a drop of five percentage points from the year before. The agency did not provide a breakdown of the charges by state. But nationwide, most of the convictions were related to drug, immigration and traffic offenses.

The jump in deportations here was mostly caused by an increase in apprehensions along the southwest border, a shortage of detention beds there and the availability of detention space here, said John Tsoukaris, ICE’s interim Atlanta field office director. Many people arrested on the border were transported to immigration detention centers in Georgia before they were deported, he said.

“When they had such a huge surge at the border, they didn’t have enough beds there to support everybody who is being detained,” he said.

The deportees may have been held in Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla and the Folkston ICE Processing Center near the Georgia-Florida border, he said.

Tsoukaris attributed the decrease in arrests in Georgia and the Carolinas to his office having to divert officers from apprehending people to instead process and transport deportees who were apprehended on the southwest border and brought here.

Tsoukaris added that local jails in Georgia and North Carolina contributed to the drop in arrests by not fully cooperating with ICE. Last year, for example, the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office in Athens announced it would no longer honor ICE detainers unless they are accompanied by a “judicial warrant or an order from a court.” Such detainers amount to requests to hold people suspected of being in the country illegally for up to 48 hours beyond the time they are scheduled to be released so ICE can pick them up and seek to deport them.

Critics say detaining people for extra time under these circumstances can violate their Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizure.

Clarke’s decision followed similar moves in 2017 by the cities of Clarkston and Decatur. In 2014, Fulton County commissioners passed a resolution urging Sheriff Ted Jackson to block ICE from using county facilities for “investigative interviews or other purposes.” That same year, the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office announced it would no longer comply with ICE detainers. And the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office said it wouldn’t honor those detainers without a warrant or “sufficient probable cause.”

“It is a matter of public safety, No. 1,” Tsoukaris said. “And No. 2, we will continue to step up efforts to find these individuals. Just because you are not cooperating with us — we are still going to be there to enforce the immigration laws.”

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