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Faced with growing numbers of undocumented residents appearing in his courtroom — including repeat offenders — a Rockdale County, Ga., judge has turned activist. A frustrated Chief Superior Court Judge Sidney L. Nation says he will inform the district director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service whenever an undocumented resident is to appear in his court. Nation calls the letter he has prepared for such situations a “notification of status.” “This may very well be whistling in the wind, but I think it’s important to let the federal government know we are wasting a lot of time and resources on these kinds of cases,” he says. “This case is an example of the additional burdens that the burgeoning illegal alien population is placing upon the judicial system in this county,” Nation’s letter states. “This information is provided to your office in the hope that the immigration laws of the United States will be followed in this case.” How the INS will respond to the letters remains to be seen. The agency did not return calls seeking comment. Under immigration laws, even legal aliens must be deported if they’re convicted of certain crimes. In Hall County, Ga., INS officials regularly monitor jail lists for prisoners who might be subject to deportation. However, in Rockdale, there is no similar procedure. “These kinds of cases overwhelm our resources but never seem to reach a final disposition,” said Nation. “We need to protest the fact that there are individuals in the country illegally, and we expend an enormous amount of time and energy on them.” NATION OUTSPOKEN ON ISSUES Nation is not reluctant to speak out on what he sees as the failures of government or the judicial system. Earlier this year he rejected a proposed sentence for a drug offender. Nation said he was “sick and tired” of drug dealers in a particular neighborhood and intended to send a message with a stiffer sentence. Last year, in a stalking case, he again proclaimed he was “sick and tired” of restraining orders being ignored. “This foolishness has to stop,” he said. And finally, in a child support hearing, Nation declared that he agreed with a father about the unfairness of a law requiring him to pay back child support even though the child lived with him during the period in question. The judge added, however, that the father must still pay because he had never gone to court to modify a prior court order to pay the support. Nation acknowledges that the area economy is dependent on immigrant workers, many of whom are undocumented. In metropolitan Atlanta, the homebuilding industry in particular relies on Latino workers. “If government wants to change the law addressing their status, that’s fine, but the local community should not continue to be asked to ignore existing laws and exhaust our resources on people who are here illegally,” says Nation. “We should not just forget the laws of the land in favor of the interest of economics.” “This is a violation of our laws, and I see nothing wrong with notifying the proper authorities on the status of an illegal alien,” says Nation. “This will have no effect on how the court will view an individual case.” But the chief judge does set the tone for a circuit. Rockdale County Superior Court Judge David B. Irwin says he likely will follow the chief judge’s lead. “Certainly there is nothing wrong with notifying the proper authorities of an illegal alien’s status,” says Irwin. “It may very well be a futile gesture, but I think it is appropriate.” Rockdale State Court Judge William F. Todd Jr. also says he may follow the superior court’s lead. Todd says he sees many more undocumented residents in his court. He had 10 cases involving illegal residents on his calendar earlier this month. “We tried to make the INS aware of the problem a few years ago but were basically totally ignored,” said Todd. He thinks Nation’s INS letter is a good idea. “It might not do any good at all, but it couldn’t hurt either,” says Todd. PROBATION TACTIC FAILED Two years ago Todd tried a different tactic. When one undocumented defendant pleaded guilty to battery, the judge ordered probation on the condition that the defendant return to Mexico. When Hernan Villa Sanchez did not, Todd revoked his probation. However, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that ordering a defendant to leave the county was the province of immigration courts, not state courts. Sanchez v. State, 234 Ga. App. 809 (1998).

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