Gwinnett County, One Step Forward, Two Steps Backwards
Gwinnett County has been in the news lately for a number of reasons, many of them good and most of them reflective of the changing demographics in the US and specifically Georgia.
“Georgia will look like Gwinnett County in 2040” we have heard over and over and it is because by 2040, over 20% of the state will be Hispanic/Latino. A thriving downtown Norcross and burgeoning activity in several local schools prove the potential of embracing Latino-Americans and New Americans.
The future looks like a mayority of minorities, just like the decisive block that voted Barack Obama into office; just like the vast majority of new business owners and entrepreneurs.
Reacting to this new reality (which is not really new, it is only new to the local government officers that have recently opened their eyes) Gwinnett Government appointed Nicole Love-Hendrickson (a known “bridge-builder” in her previous position at the Gwinnett Coalition of Health & Human Services and the Gwinnett Leadership Institute) as coordinator and later director of the Community Outreach Program in 2015.
Nicole, in her new role, has been present and involved with many organizations providing support as well as resources and most importantly, an open ear to many communities’ comments, suggestions and complaints about things not going well in the county. She has tried and continues to try to bring communities together and to the table in Gwinnett.
Also, recent news of the Duluth Police Department attempting to establish rapport and ease fears in our communities led by Officer Havier Bahamundi are now overshadowed by the renewing of the ICE collaboration.
Just a few weeks ago, the first EVER Language Access Summit for Service Providers, an event spearheaded by CPACS provided a full-day of workshops and presentations to many local officials (including police officers) and non-profit professionals on how to better serve the thousands of Limited-English-Speaking community members livind in the county (32% of all of GA’s LEP population according to the Atlanta Regional Commission)
While Nicole’s work and the outreach the Norcross and Duluth police departments are appreciated and are firm steps forward, the step backwards crystalized this week with the annoucement that Sheriff Butch Conway’s office will renew its agreement to participate in a federal immigration detainment program that according to many immigrants’ rights advocacy organizations (including the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, and the NYU Law School Immigrant Rights Clinic) has been proven to target Latinos and brown immigrants in general creating an environment of fear and marginalization (read here the report on racial profiling in Gwinnett County by the ACLU)
US citizens and lawful residents have been stopped repeteadly, families have been torn apart, and communities have learned through witnessing and hearing about illegal, abusive practices not to trust the police. Even citizens are scared to contact the police because they feel that the officers are focused on apprehending immigrants.
As Bryan Johnson, an immigration attorney says “FEAR OVERRIDES EVERYTHING”
Only in Gwinnett County, over 13,000 individuals have been detained and placed in ICE custody since 2009. The outcome is thousands of the most vulnerable US citizens, children, left without caregivers with all the known consequences of it, including academic, economic and health challenges. The Urban Insitute issued a report on the “Impact of Immigration Enforcement in Children” that details difficulties eating, sleeping, clinging to adults and crying as well as aggresive and withdrawn behaviour in most children as well as food hardship, housing inestability and school absentism lasting for months. Yes, there are the children that suffer, our children. Our American children.
According to a ICE reports, over 48,000 American-born children in Georgia saw parents who are undocumented residents taken into custody between 2009-2013. and yet, according to the Sheriff and Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, the program has been successful helping erradicate crime. The crime of driving to work, to school or minor traffic violations in most cases.
A couple of weeks ago, a number of Latino-serving non-profit leaders signed a position paper titled “Strenghtening Latino Families in Georgia”. A request to local police to opt-out of enforcing ICE procedures is at the top of the list. Once again, that paper falls in deaf ears, just like the many recommendations and complaints previously sent by GLAHR, ACLU and so many others.
A huge step backwards for Gwinnett County that undermines the work that so many good citizens and local organizations and governments are doing.