House Bill 202 would provide to the public aggregate statistics on crimes committed by people in state prisons who are in the country illegally. Monday afternoon, the state House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee approved the bill on a 8-2 vote.
State Rep. Jesse Petrea, R-Savannah, is the lead sponsor of the bill and said it only pertains to state prisons — not local jails.
“The subset of inmates in this state who are illegally here are about 3 percent,” Petrea said. “So, this is a smaller subset. However, it is an impactful subset, because when you think about the fact that if indeed our federal government, our federally elected officials from both parties, if they were doing their job and dealing with the very important issue of immigration in this country, and making sure we have a legal and vigorous immigration system, if they were doing that job, then none of those crimes, perhaps, would have occurred.
“And so I had received this information at the request of the (state Department of Corrections) a couple of years ago, and discovered that I could get it, but it wasn’t available to the public.”
The aggregate data would include numbers on those under detainers from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, offenses committed and the home countries of the inmates “who are not United States citizens and who are confined under the authority of the department and, with regard to the total population in confinement, the percentage that comprises persons who are not citizens of the United States.”
The first report would go out Oct. 1, and then every 90 days thereafter.
“This is 1,505 currently in Georgia corrections, and well over 1,100 of these are violent and sex offenses,” Petrea said. “These are heinous crimes, folks. And the degree to which this is a problem, the people need to be aware of.”
The language of the committee substitute of the bill approved Monday doesn’t make it clear, but from discussion in committee, the statistics wouldn’t be on all unauthorized immigrants in state prisons, but on ones with ICE detainers — Petrea said there are an estimated 2,100 people in state prisons believed to be unauthorized but a few hundred don’t have ICE detainers.
Naomi Tsu, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center who specializes in immigration law in the Deep South, told the committee that what happens with an ICE detainer is that the agency indicates it’s interested in finding out the release date of that inmate so the agency can pick them up.
“It’s basically like filing an indictment, but in the immigration system,” Tsu said. “So, it’s not proof of anything, it’s allegations of something. A detainer will often be filed against someone who had legal status. So, one of the things Congress has done is to say you can lose your privilege of being here if you are an immigrant, if you entered — I’m not an immigrant, but I’m the child of immigrants, and if any of my family members had committed a really heinous crime like the ones on this list, they would’ve lost their immigration status. Until they became citizens, at which point you’re just subject to the same protections as all citizens.
“Congress strips people’s immigration status, and the way ICE goes about doing that — because it’s not an automatic process, there’s an immigration court involved, etc. — and so, ICE files a detainer against someone who might have been here completely legally, in order to try to strip that status so they can be deported.”
Various speakers swung both ways on directions they believed the bill should go — some advocated for explicit comparisons to the percentages of crimes committed by inmates in the general population, so as to provide context and not needlessly demonize immigrant communities. Others asked for the bill to cover everyone in prison believed to be unauthorized, along with those in local jails throughout the state.
The bill now moves on to the House Rules Committee.