Lt. Governor Casey Cagle escalates fight with Decatur using state immigration boardPhoto illustration obtained via https://www.ice.gov/
This story has been updated.
A little-known board with members appointed by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle may ultimately resolve a dispute between Cagle and the city of Decatur over the city’s policy regarding immigration suspects.
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. The lieutenant governor is threatening to withhold state and federal money from the city over the policy.
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.
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.
Cagle responded by filing a complaint with the state Immigration Enforcement Review Board on Nov. 6. The board was appointed in 2011 to handle complaints about “illegal immigration.” Two of the board’s members are appointed by Cagle. The board’s chair, Shawn Hanley, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that he was “troubled” by Decatur’s policy and others like it.
“They are dividing this country even further,” Hanley told the AJC, speaking only for himself and not the board. “All they are doing is encouraging more illegal immigration.”
The immigration review board has the power to recommend withholding state funds from any local government found to be in violation of state law. The board can also recommend a fine.
AJC political columnist Jim Galloway reported that the Immigration Enforcement Review Board handled 20 cases in six years, 19 of which were filed by the founder of the Dustin Inman Society, dubbed a “extremist” group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Decatur City Manager Peggy Merriss is hopeful the immigration board will find Decatur’s policy does not violate state law.
“We will present our case before the IERB in response to the complaint with the hope that they provide a non-biased non-partisan forum and make a decision based on facts,” Merriss said. “We believe our position would prevail in that environment.”
The sanctuary cities law was enacted in 2013, according to Cagle’s complaint. Merriss said the city has never received a request from ICE, known as a detainer, since the law was enacted. The city doesn’t have a jail.
The city has said it did not put its longstanding policy into law because of pressure from a local activist group, Hate Free Decatur, which has been involved in efforts to remove a Confederate monument from the city’s square. The city said its attorney reviewed the policy to make sure it complied with state law before putting in writing.
When asked why the city decided to put a decade-old policy in writing this year, Merriss said, “In early 2017 based on news reporting I had seen, I asked Chief Booker 1) about our experience with ICE detainers; and, 2) our process for handling persons who had outstanding warrants issued by any other law enforcement agencies. That was the beginning of the discussion.”
That process was finished in late September.
When asked to respond to Cagle’s complaint to the immigration board, Merriss said, “We think it is unfortunate that Lt. Governor Cagle has filed a complaint that misconstrues the city of Decatur’s policy. We believe we are in compliance and are upholding all of the laws of the State of Georgia and the laws and Constitution of the United States. The inflammatory language being used by the Lt. Governor to describe the policy of the city of Decatur Police Department is insulting to the exceptionally qualified and dedicated officers and staff who work daily to assure the well-being, safety and security of our community for our residents, businesses and visitors with honesty, integrity and a commitment to the community.”
State Sen. Parent said Cagle’s targeting of Decatur is an attempt to shore up his base as he campaigns to replace Gov. Deal. Other cities, like Atlanta, have similar policies but are not in Cagle’s crosshairs.
“He’s just really trying to use it to build an email list,” Parent said. “Going after Decatur is only beneficial while going after Atlanta has more risk. It’s easy. Decatur is like the liberal bastion. It’s known as this really liberal city and it’s small. It doesn’t have the power like Atlanta has.”
Cagle, who has not responded to requests for comments from Decaturish, has continued to make his case via Facebook.
“I’m simply asking the city of Decatur to behave like you and me – and follow state law! Criminal illegal immigrants who have committed atrocious crimes are issued immigration detainers by the federal government,” Cagle said in a recent post. “The federal government requires local law enforcement to turn over these detained individuals to immigration officials, and state law reinforces that ALL local governments must follow this procedure. Decatur knows that state law calls for defunding a city that does not cooperate with this law. They have been operating knowing the consequences, and if they don’t change they will have to pay them.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information about the appointment of Shawn Hanley. He was appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal. This story has been updated with the correct information.