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State Attorney General asked to review Decatur policy regarding immigration suspects

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State Attorney General asked to review Decatur policy regarding immigration suspects

Photo illustration obtained via https://www.ice.gov/
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Photo illustration obtained via https://www.ice.gov/

This story has been updated. 

The state’s Attorney General may weigh in on a standoff between Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and the city of Decatur over a policy regarding suspects facing deportation due to their immigration status.

Cagle has accused the city of Decatur of violating state law prohibiting “sanctuary cities” because of the city’s decision to put a longstanding policy in writing regarding cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The city said it does not detain immigrants without a valid warrant from ICE and never has. Officers who violate the policy could face disciplinary action.

Cagle, the leading Republican candidate to replace Gov. Nathan Deal, is demanding the city amend that policy to specify that city police officers are not prohibited from communicating with federal authorities.

“It seems reasonable to me – and I know most Georgians would agree – that all law enforcement agencies in the State of Georgia should cooperate to prevent criminal illegal aliens from committing any further incidences of violence against our citizens,” Cagle wrote in a letter dated Oct. 18. “Should the City of Decatur fail to adopt a new policy, I will have no choice but to intervene and pursue all available resources to uphold the rule of law.”

The lieutenant governor is threatening to withhold state and federal money from the city over the policy.

The city of Decatur on Nov. 1 responded to the Lt. Governor a second time and said the city is complying with the law. The city said state Sen. Elena Parent has asked Attorney General Chris Carr to provide his opinion about Decatur’s Policy.

“We respectfully disagree with the Lt. Governor’s interpretation of applicable laws,” City Attorney Bryan Downs said. “We are hopeful that the Attorney General will provide clarity because at present, we have what appear to be legally unsupported ultimatums from a powerful state official who wants to intervene in the wording of our local police department policies.”

Cagle says as of Oct. 13 the state Department of Corrections housed 1,316 inmates with immigration detainers who have committed felonies.

“These serious offenses and violent crimes include: 184 child molestations, 174 cases of trafficking of methamphetamine or cocaine, and 127 murders,” Cagle said in his Oct. 18 letter. “All of these convicted criminals will be transferred into federal custody by the Department of Corrections as required by federal and state law.”

Decaturish contacted the Department of Corrections and a spokesperson verified those numbers. Decaturish also left a message with the Lt. Governor’s Office. In the past, Cagle has made misleading claims about crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.

A recent Politifact article researching his claim that 120 homicides could’ve been prevented through better cooperation with ICE and Homeland Security determined Cagle’s claim to be “false.”

Decatur’s City Commission has flatly refused to adopt “sanctuary city” status as other cities around the country have done. A resident requested the city do so at the Dec. 19, 2016 City Commission meeting. Mayor Patti Garrett said the city could not do this, citing state law.

Garrett reiterated this point in the city’s response on Nov. 1. She noted the city doesn’t have a jail and can’t technically detain anyone.

“The City of Decatur is not a sanctuary city,” she said. “We are aware of a number of cities and counties in Georgia that have adopted similar, if not broader, immigrant status policies, so this is a question of statewide significance. Our Police Department does not recall ever receiving a detainer request from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). We do not operate jail facilities to detain anyone, regardless of the law enforcement organization making such a request. Frankly, we are uncertain as to why the City of Decatur has been singled out on this issue.”

Here is the full response from the city:

City of Decatur Responds to Lt. Governor’s Demands Regarding Immigration Compliance

Recently, the Decatur Police Department adopted a general order codifying a long-standing practice regarding detention and immigration status: that a person is arrested or detained only on the basis of a judicially issued warrant.  Lt. Governor Casey Cagle claims that this policy violates the State “sanctuary city” law and demands that the Decatur Police Department amend its policy or the City of Decatur will face various consequences.

The Lt. Governor alleges that, because of its general order on immigration status, the Decatur Police Department is not pursuing the arrest, detention and prosecution of persons charged with felony crimes, including murder, drug dealing and child molestation.  This allegation is simply not true.  The Decatur Police Chief and the Decatur Police Department are committed to preventing felony crimes, to apprehending persons charged with felony crimes and to seeking justice in a way that is both effective and constitutional.  To imply otherwise unfairly questions the integrity and commitment of our police officers to uphold their oath of office.

The Decatur Police Department partners with the Decatur community to ensure the safety of Decatur’s residents, businesses and visitors.   Chief Mike Booker expects Decatur Police officers to meet high standards, incorporating honesty, integrity and professionalism in all their duties.  The officers of the Decatur Police Department are dedicated to enforcing the ordinances of the City of Decatur and the laws of the State of Georgia.  They take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Georgia.

On October 27, 2017, State Senator Elena Parent requested Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr’s opinion regarding the issues presented, including whether the Decatur Police Department’s policy complies with State and Federal immigration status laws.  City Attorney Bryan Downs stated, “We respectfully disagree with the Lt. Governor’s interpretation of applicable laws.  We are hopeful that the Attorney General will provide clarity because at present, we have what appear to be legally unsupported ultimatums from a powerful state official who wants to intervene in the wording of our local police department policies.”

Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett added: “The City of Decatur is not a sanctuary city. We are aware of a number of cities and counties in Georgia that have adopted similar, if not broader, immigrant status policies, so this is a question of statewide significance. Our Police Department does not recall ever receiving a detainer request from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  We do not operate jail facilities to detain anyone, regardless of the law enforcement organization making such a request.  Frankly, we are uncertain as to why the City of Decatur has been singled out on this issue.”

Here’s Cagle’s Oct. 18 letter.

Cagle Letter 10.18.17

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