Gwinnett says immigration program is working

Gwinnett County jailers have detained 286 inmates for possible deportation in the six weeks since they began checking the immigration status of every prisoner.

The Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office began a partnership known as 287(g) with federal immigration officials on Nov. 16. The inmates detained for Immigration and Customs Enforcement had been charged with 629 crimes, including aggravated assault, rape, child molestation, DUI, battery, robberies, drug and traffic charges.

Statistics indicate that 62 percent of the jail's current population of foreign-born inmates are in the country illegally, according to Stacey Bourbonnais, spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office.

The program is working as officials had hoped, prompting a decrease in the number of inmates from foreign countries being booked into the jail, which may signal that illegal immigrants are moving out of Gwinnett, officials said Wednesday.

"That is certainly the anecdotal evidence at this point," said Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway. "I don't have anything else to tie the drop to."

Over the past six weeks, 1,307 foreign-born inmates were booked into the jail. That's a decrease of 622 inmates compared to the same time frame last year, when 1,929 foreign-born inmates were jailed. Conway said the jail's overall population is down 300 inmates.

"That's never happened since I've been sheriff."

"We've always been on the increase," Conway said. "I keep wanting to pinch myself because I can't believe it's really happening."

The inmates who were detained for ICE hailed from Africa, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Panama, among other places.