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Immigration Board member who called Lt. Gov. Cagle a ‘winner’ abstains from Decatur case

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Immigration Board member who called Lt. Gov. Cagle a ‘winner’ abstains from Decatur case

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
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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 scored a point in its battle with the Immigration Enforcement Review Board, successfully getting one of its members to refrain from hearing a complaint filed by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle against the city.

The IERB is currently considering Cagle’s complaint. He has accused Decatur of being a sanctuary city, which it isn’t. 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.

Cagle, who is the leading Republican candidate for governor, has made a campaign issue out of the case. He has 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. 

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As it turns out, a member of the Immigration Enforcement Review Board is a fan of Cagle’s crusade against Decatur: Phil Kent. City Attorney Bryan Downs asked Kent to recuse himself from the case. Downs made the request for several reasons, the most notable of which is comments made on a local political talk show, “Georgia Gang.”

On Oct. 29, several days before Cagle filed his complaint, Kent participated in the program’s “Winners and Losers” segment. Kent declared Cagle a “winner” for picking a fight with Decatur over its policy regarding immigration suspects.

“My winner is Lt. Governor Casey Cagle,” Kent said. “He made some news this past week by taking a shot at the City of Decatur. The City of Decatur is not honoring requests from Immigration Control & Enforcement and Homeland Security when it comes to some of these criminal illegal immigrants, some of them gang members. And so he laid down a marker and even said ‘by November 1st, you better be in compliance with the feds.'”

Kent was one of two members — the other being Board Chair Shawn Hanley — appointed to a “Review Panel” for the case. Hanley was also asked to recuse himself from hearing the case for statements he made to the media that were critical of Decatur’s policy. According to an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Hanley criticized Decatur’s policy in an interview.

So far Hanley has not recused himself.

But, back to Kent.

In addition to his remarks calling Cagle a winner, he made posts on Twitter that Downs said were evidence of his bias against the city of Decatur.

“On October 27, 2017, two days before his ‘Georgia Gang’ appearance, Kent posted an article headline stating: ‘GA Lt Gov @CaseyCagle Warns Decatur on Harboring Illegal Aliens; Gives Nov. 1 Deadline.’ As a member of the IERB, Mr. Kent undoubtedly knew that if the City did not comply with the Lieutenant Governor’s deadline, the matter could be brought before the IERB, of which he is a member,” Downs wrote. “Even more disturbing is the fact that the October 27 posting linked to an article on InsiderAdvantage.com, an on-line political newsletter, for which Phil Kent serves as CEO. By posting a link to an article on his paid subscription-based newsletter about a topic that could be brought before the IERB, Kent mixed his public duties with his business interests.”

Downs said Kent was violating the state ethics law by continuing to preside over the case. He said Kent’s participation in the case will benefit Cagle’s campaign to become Georgia’s next governor.

“Mr. Kent has pre-judged the allegations made by the Office of Lieutenant Governor, and his statements against the City of Decatur and in favor of the Lieutenant Governor reveal his bias, proving that he cannot be fair and neutral in adjudicating the Complaint,” Downs wrote.

Kent provided a statement to Decaturish saying he would abstain from participating in the case, but he denied that he had reached any conclusions about Decatur’s case.

“I have not prejudged the merits of the Decatur complaint case before the IERB and I am fully capable of giving the case detached and judicious consideration,” he said. “I have done this with all the cases before me. However, rather than allow this baseless motion from Decatur to delay the process, I have decided on my own volition to abstain from participating in this particular case. The case involving that city should proceed based on the facts of the matter, not to be distracted by unfounded attacks on any member of the review board. I have full confidence in the six other board members for rendering a just decision.”

The other board members, beside Hanley, are James Balli, Terry Clark, Amor Kok, Boyd Austin and Mike Yeager. In addition to Hanley, Austin and Yeager also have potential conflicts. They were appointed to the Immigration Enforcement Review Board by Cagle.

The IERB is supposed to hold a hearing on the complaint against Decatur this month, but it hasn’t been scheduled yet.

Here is Downs’ motion asking for Kent to recuse himself and the evidence he provided to support his request:

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