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State immigration board will hear complaint against city of Decatur in January

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State immigration board will hear complaint against city of Decatur in January

Immigration Enforcement Review Board members met in November to discuss the complaint against Decatur. Left to right: State assistant district attorney Jennifer Colangelo, Immigration Enforcement Review board member Phil Kent and board Chairman, Shawn Hanley. File photo by Mariann Martin

Left to right: State assistant district attorney Jennifer Colangelo, board member Phil Kent and Board Chairman, Shawn Hanley. Photo by Mariann Martin

This story has been updated. 

By Mariann Martin, contributor 

The state’s Immigration Enforcement Review Board has decided to move forward with a complaint filed by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle against the city of Decatur.

Cagle filed the complaint on Nov. 6. Cagle has accused the city of Decatur of violating state law prohibiting “sanctuary cities” because of the city’s decision to put in writing a longstanding policy 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. The city says its policy is not in violation of state law.

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The city’s attorney, Bryan Downs, questioned the motives behind the complaint at the Immigration Enforcement Review Board’s Nov. 15 meeting.

Downs asked why Cagle filed an immigration complaint against Decatur when other communities in Atlanta have very similar policies, including the city of Atlanta.

“And little city of Decatur, we kind of scratch our heads and are trying to figure that out. Is it just that he is picking on this small city and doesn’t want to go after a bigger city?” Downs said after Wednesday’s meeting.

Downs said he believes Cagle, the leading Republican candidate to replace Gov. Nathan Deal, is doing it for political reasons.

“He’s one minute filing the complaint, and the next minute posting this on his campaign website,” Downs said.

The board voted unanimously to begin the review process of the complaint. The complaint will be heard in January, Board Chairman Shawn Hanley said during the meeting, but he did not provide a specific date. Five members of the 7-member board voted on the motion. Hanley and Phil Kent were present at the meeting and James Balli, Terry Clark and Amor Kok called in. Boyd Austin and Mike Yeager were absent. Austin and Yeager were appointed to the Immigration Enforcement Review Board by Cagle.

Cagle did not attend the meeting held at the state capitol. The lieutenant governor is threatening to withhold state and federal money from the city over the policy.

After the board voted to review the complaint, Downs was given time to speak. He said the complaint should be dismissed on technical terms, since it is not clear whether Cagle is operating in his official capacity or as private citizen or as someone running for office.

Downs also read through a list of formal objections from the city and asked the objections be filed as part of the case, providing a written list to the board.

The objections included asking about communications between Cagle or his attorneys and members of the board. Hanley promised that any communications would be by email and Downs would be copied.

A list of the city of Decatur’s objections.

Downs also asked that any members appointed by Cagle or members involved in his campaign not participate in investigating the complaint. He also objected to statements Hanley made to the media critical of Decatur’s policy.

According to an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Hanley criticized Decatur’s policy in an interview.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Hanley said the article did not accurately quote him.

“I’m not going to recuse myself,” Hanley said.

After the meeting, Hanley insisted the board did not have a political agenda, but was simply trying to enforce state law.

Since the board was formed in 2011, it has heard 22 to 26 complaints, Hanley said. They imposed a $1,000 fine on Atlanta for its hiring policies, Hanley said. Other government entities have been willing to work with them to come in compliance with state laws, he said.

During Wednesday’s meeting, the board also voted to have Hanley hire an outside investigator to review numerous pending cases and help the board catch up on its backlog. The board has not done so in the past, but Hanley said they would need to spend as much as 20 hours a week for the rest of the year simply to review and investigate pending cases.

Balli voted against the motion, saying he thought the motion should have a monetary cap on it. The board has an annual budget of $20,000, which it has not spent this year.

The board said they will review all the pending cases during their January meeting, but would not hold hearings on all the cases.

D.A. King, founder of the Dustin Inman Society, has filed the majority of the complaints with the Immigration Enforcement Review Board. The group is known for taking hard line stances against people who violate immigration laws. The group’s founder said Decatur isn’t violating state sanctuary law, even though he doesn’t personally approve of the city’s policy.

Decatur’s City Commission has 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 Commission received a similar request during public comments at a meeting in February and Garrett reiterated the city’s position, saying that the city would be at risk of losing state funds if it adopted a “sanctuary city” policy.

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