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Hearing on Lt. Governor’s complaint against Decatur could be pushed back to March

Crime and public safety Decatur slideshow

Hearing on Lt. Governor’s complaint against Decatur could be pushed back to March

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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

Decatur will have to wait a little longer before the state Immigration Enforcement Review Board holds a meeting about a complaint Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle filed against the city.

The board was expected to take up the issue in January. An employee with the state Department of Audits and Accounts, which handles the board’s administrative functions, told Decaturish that the board has a full agenda for its February meeting.

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The employee said, “The Chairman of the IERB wanted to address all of the complaints that are somewhat similar in nature during this meeting. That is a total of 14 complaints. There would not be any additional time to include the complaint regarding the city of Decatur. The Chairman hopes to call a meeting regarding this complaint in March. But, nothing has been set.”

Decatur officials have been a favorite target of Cagle, a gubernatorial candidate who has accused Decatur of creating a “sanctuary city.”

To be clear, Decatur has not declared itself a sanctuary city, even though Cagle has repeatedly called it that. What the city did do was 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.

Even a group that has taken extreme positions on the illegal immigration issue has questioned the basis for Cagle’s complaint. The Dustin Inman Society has filed most of the complaints with the state’s Immigration Enforcement Review Board. The group’s founder, D.A. King said Decatur isn’t violating state sanctuary law, even though he doesn’t personally approve of the city’s policy.

That hasn’t stopped Cagle’s attacks. Last month he implied that city of Decatur officials should be charged with crimes after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security signaled that it intends to charge officials in so-called Sanctuary Cities.

Cagle has previously said state funding should be withheld from Decatur. He has not returned repeated messages from Decaturish seeking comment about this story.

The Immigration Enforcement Review Board also has ties to Cagle. He appoints two of the board’s members.

City Attorney Bryan Downs said during a hearing in November that any members of the board appointed by Cagle or members involved in his campaign should not participate in investigating the complaint.

Issues like immigration received more attention in Decatur following the election of President Trump who, like Cagle, has routinely demonized immigrants who are in the United States illegally. In December 2016, a resident requested that Decatur adopt sanctuary city status. Mayor Patti Garrett said the city could not do this, citing state law.

During the City Commission’s annual retreat in 2017, city leaders made Decatur’s position on “federal policies” one of its priorities for that year.

The commission decided it would address each issue on a case-by-case basis and outlined its specific position on immigration policy.

The city’s official position discussed at the 2017 retreat is, “We are restricted by the state of Georgia from declaring or adopting the city of Decatur as a ‘sanctuary city.’ With input from the community, we have adopted a Welcoming America resolution and a Compassionate City resolution. In addition, we have a Better Together Advisory Board.”

The city commission clearly did not want a confrontation with state officials over this issue, but found itself involved in one anyway the city put the Police Department’s policy on immigration suspects in writing.

Commissioners discussed the pending hearing before the Immigration Enforcement Review Board during their 2018 annual retreat held in Young Harris, Ga. on Jan. 25 and Jan. 26

Mayor Garrett said, “Regardless of where things go with our hearing, our values are clear, and we have done exactly what we said we would do.”

Downs, the city’s attorney, said during the retreat that Cagle “has picked us as a political piñata and has initiated this complaint process.”

“It’s ongoing litigation, in effect,” he said.

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