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Chairman of state Immigration Board calls Decatur suit ‘frivolous,’ says board will be fair

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Chairman of state Immigration Board calls Decatur suit ‘frivolous,’ says board will be fair

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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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

The chairman of the state’s Immigration Enforcement Review Board says the city of Decatur’s lawsuit against the board is “frivolous,” and promised the board would treat the city fairly.

The board is handling a complaint filed by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who contends the city is violating a state law that forbids sanctuary cities. The city is not a sanctuary city, however, and city leaders have flatly rejected calls from residents to adopt this status.

What Cagle was referring to was the city’s decision put in writing a longstanding policy regarding cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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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 disagrees and has made the matter a campaign issue, calling for Decatur to be stripped of state funding and suggesting its elected officials would be charged with crimes.

On Friday, IERB Board Chairman Shawn Hanley spoke to Decaturish about Decatur’s lawsuits against the board. The city’s lawsuits allege the IERB is violating the state’s open meetings and open records laws. Hanley said that’s not true.

“I believe these are really frivolous and in no way are we trying to withhold any information,” Hanley said. “As a matter of fact, it’s the exact opposite. [City Attorney] Bryan Downs and Decatur have been extremely uncooperative with an investigation we started two months ago into looking into whether the Casey Cagle complaint has some merit. We’re trying to do our job and he has hampered and been uncooperative. The irony is he’s filing some lawsuit against us when it’s him who has been incredibly uncooperative.”

When asked whether the city of Decatur is being uncooperative as Hanley claims, Downs said, “Absolutely not.”

“The City of Decatur has been cooperative, accountable and transparent throughout this process,” Downs said. “We have responded to every request from the IERB, we have met every deadline, and we have appeared at every IERB meeting (including the first one after the Lieutenant Governor’s Office filed a complaint, for which we received less than 48 hours’ notice). Apparently, Mr. Hanley equates providing a vigorous defense against an erroneous complaint as being uncooperative and unaccountable.”

Downs’ full statement is included at the end of this article.

There’s no question the city has been combative about the complaint. Before the lawsuit, the city asked Hanley to recuse himself because of previous statements he made about Decatur’s policy in an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Hanley declined. The city successfully convinced another board member, Phil Kent, to recuse himself because of comments he made praising Cagle during an episode of “Georgia Gang,” a local political talk show.

Two other members of the board are appointed by Cagle. Hanley said they have not recused themselves.

“We haven’t reached the point where that may or not be an issue,” Hanley said.

Decaturish asked Hanley whether the board feels additional pressure because Cagle is a powerful elected official in the state of Georgia. Hanley said Cagle will be treated just like any other citizen who files a complaint.

“I have to treat his case no different than any other,” Hanley said. “He’s a citizen of Georgia. He filed a complaint. He’s in the queue like everybody else. He has to wait is turn.”

He said the board will treat Decatur “100 percent fairly.”

Hanley noted that the board recently dismissed nine cases and has only issued one fine, a $1,000 penalty for the city of Atlanta.

“We’re talking about cities and counties that are on shoestring budgets,” Hanley said. “We don’t want to take their money and penalize them. We want to make sure the laws are properly followed, that this enforcement body works as it’s supposed to.”

Hanley said he catches grief from both sides of the political spectrum. He says people on the far left don’t like the board because it exists, and people on the far right don’t like it because they feel the board is far too lenient.

Many people simply misunderstand the board’s function, he says. He said the board only responds to complaints and does not actively seek out people who might be breaking state laws.

“We’re a reactive board,” he said. “We only react to complaints.”

Here is Downs’ full statement about Hanley’s assertion that the city has been uncooperative with the IERB.

Statement in response to Chairman Hanley Statement

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