Supporters of the 287(g) program believe it helps keep communities safer, reduces crime and saves taxpayer money. Opponents like the groups who organized the forum say it leads to racial profiling, tears families apart and disproportionately affects undocumented immigrants arrested for nonviolent crimes like driving without a license.
The already heated topic took on another extra layer of tension earlier in the week after a local Tea Party leader distributed an email that appeared to encourage supporters of the 287(g) program to attend the forum and bring weapons with them.
Asked about his email on Tuesday, United Tea Party of Georgia leader David Hancock was quick to say he did not intend to suggest his supporters should feel the need to be armed for the meeting and that he was not expecting or encouraging violence.
He followed up Wednesday with a post on the Tea Party website asking his supporters to "be civil, police and respectful of those that you disagree with."
Hancock was present — and seemingly unarmed — for at least part of the crowded forum held Wednesday night at the Collins Hill branch of the Gwinnett County Public Library.
Many other 287(g) supporters were there as well. None appeared to be armed with anything but handheld signs.
Law enforcement officers — some uniformed, some not — helped keep the relative peace during the tense question-and-answer session that followed the organizers’ opening statements.
“There was a robust discussion and some differences of opinion,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, the advocacy and legal director for Project South. “But I think folks learned things.”