Gwinnett County Immigration Event Turns Tense

More than 100 people showed up to a panel holding signs both for and against the program.
More than 100 people showed up to a panel holding signs both for and against the program.
Credit Roxanne Scott / WABE

Residents of Gwinnett County made their voices heard about the 287g program, which allows the sheriff’s office to enforce federal immigration law, this week. More than 100 people showed up to a six-member panel about the program holding signs both for and against it.

The audience at the auditorium of the Gwinnett Justice and Administration building repeatedly interrupted panelists.

Hours prior to the event, immigrant rights groups declined to participate because D.A. King was on the panel representing Gwinnett County. King, a self-described nationalist, is founder of the Dustin Inman Society. The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies the organization as a hate group.

“By choosing D.A. King as its official spokesperson, the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office has blatantly shown that it operates on a platform of racism and complete disregard of any immigrant rights,” said the Atlanta chapter of the Asian Americans Advancing Justice in a press release.

State Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero, also on the panel, questioned King’s presence and made reference to his gambling conviction.

“That is my deep concern that the Sheriff’s Department would invite someone who would speak on their behalf an individual that on this panel to my personal knowledge is the only one that’s a convicted felon,” she said.

In his opening statement, King shared his definition of the word immigrant.

“An immigrant is someone who comes here lawfully with the intention of permanent residence,” he said. “You are going to hear that no one is illegal. Which is false.”

Gwinnett Commissioner Marlene Fosque organized the event.

“My goal was to bring  together people – Gwinnett County panelists and residents – to have a dialogue,” she said.

In May, the Sheriff’s office renewed the 287g program with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, through June of 2020. Other agencies in Georgia that have the program include Cobb County, Hall County and the Georgia Department of Corrections.