Feelings were mixed when about 30 people turned out in Lawrenceville Tuesday night to talk about Gwinnett County’s implementation of a federal program aimed at illegal immigrants.
Opponents pointed to a lack of direction in the enforcement in the program called 287(g), which is named for a section of the federal immigration law. It allows state and local enforcement to investigate, detain and arrest illegal immigrants on civil and criminal grounds.
People opposed to the program said it has fractured families and caused the legal system to concentrate on minor offenders. The federal act, they argued, was intended to focus on terrorists and violent illegal immigrants but has become a tool to cut a broad swath through a community of mostly law-abiding citizens.
“These are honest people,” said Richard Munoz of Norcross. “They are hardworking people.”
What the county is doing is wrong, said Andrea Alvarez of Lilburn, who announced she was born in the United States.
“Illegal immigrants pay taxes,” she said. “They have tax IDs. They pay sales taxes. They own homes.”
But there was equal passion from the opposing side.
Cregg Fulkerson, a Gwinnett property owner and founder of Legal American Workers, said everyone in this country is an immigrant, but those who belong here came through a port of entry. He spoke of the problems many undocumented immigrants create in traffic infractions and serious crime.
“I have a painting business I’m losing because of illegals,” he said. “I can’t bid over them, and the American people are using them. My main painter is from Colombia, and he’s legal. He’s staying home, too, like I am.”
Jill Benson spoke of how her neighborhood just off Buford Highway near Duluth has deteriorated from repeated gang tagging and violence.
“Thanks to the tireless efforts of neighbors and law enforcement, we seem to be making some headway,” she said. “Countless neighborhoods like mine in Gwinnett have been negatively impacted by illegal immigration [which has led to] plummeting property values and fears for our safety,” she said.