A new detention center in North Georgia will help ensure that illegal immigrants are detained and deported instead of released because of lack of bed space, a local official said.
The problem is not that local jails must detain illegal immigrants longer, said Whitfield County Sheriff's Office Lt. Wes Lynch.
"The problem is that, when they are sent to the federal-run facilities, if there is not enough housing - after all this work has been done to detain them - they are usually released on bond and many times they don't show up again," he said.
Lt. Lynch is one of six jail enforcement officers who took a four-week training program last year to enforce immigration law.
The new 500-bed facility in Gainesville is the third immigration detention center in Georgia where detainees can stay more than 72 hours. Others are in Lumpkin and Atlanta.
The Gainesville center and the Stewart detention center in Lumpkin are run by the private company Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest owner and operator of government-contracted correctional and detention facilities, according to a news release. The Atlanta City Detention Center is owned by the city of Atlanta.
There is no set way to determine who will be detained in the North Georgia Detention Center, since it depends on availability and the agency's needs, according to Temple Black, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman.
Since 1995, ICE's detention capacity nationwide increased from fewer than 7,500 beds to over 30,000 in 2009, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
On Sept. 1, more than 30,000 detainees were in custody at more than 300 facilities nationwide.
"The need for detention centers has been driven by enforcement not by the violation of law," Lt. Lynch said. "It wasn't until the local agencies got involved in the immigration process and people started being regularly identified that the federal government had to make changes."
On Oct. 6, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Assistant Secretary John Morton announced reforms that will focus on greater federal oversight, specific attention to detainee care and uniformity at detention facilities.
On average, an immigrant is detained 30 days, but it is expected that in Gainesville it will be reduced to up to weeks, according to the news release.
"If we streamline our process for removal, not only would it be less of a hardship on those individuals and their families, but it would also cost us millions of dollars less than what we are spending now," Lt. Lynch said.
BY THE NUMBERS
* 378,582: People in custody or supervised by ICE in fiscal year 2008
* 31,075: People in detention on Sept. 1, 2009
* 30: Average days in detention
* 3: Immigration detention centers in Georgia
Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.