Decatur officials blast Immigration Board decision, Police Chief invites Cagle to coffeeCity Attorney Bryan Downs File Photo by Mariann Martin
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Decatur officials held a press conference on Monday, May 21, to remind everyone that Decatur is not a sanctuary city, despite claims by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.
Cagle received a preliminary ruling from the Immigration Enforcement Review Board supporting his complaint that he filed last year. It was emailed to media on Saturday, May 19, but it won’t actually be voted on until June.
City Attorney Bryan Downs implored the press to be more skeptical of the situation.
“I appreciate your interest in this story, and I would ask that you really dig down and report on what’s going on here,” Downs said. “I think we all really know what’s going on here, but we need the press to report on that.”
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Downs and other city officials said the decision was a boon to Cagle because it was disseminated to the press just days before the May 22 Republican primary.
“It is clearly meant to be a political gift to candidate Cagle, three days before the primary,” Downs said.
The decision could have implications for other cities with similar policies. The IERB said that Decatur needs to repeal its policy regarding cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement or risk being stripped of state funding. Decatur has repeatedly asked why Cagle has singled it out when other cities and communities have had similar policies on the books regarding ICE detainer requests.
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.
Downs notes that the detainer requests really aren’t a factor for Decatur, because the city does not have a jail.
“The city of Decatur’s police department has never had a single detainer request from ICE, that anyone can remember in the past three decades,” Downs said.
The heart of the complaint, Downs said, is the insinuation that Decatur gives refuge to criminals.
“If Decatur Police receives a communication from ICE that there is a warrant issued by a judge or magistrate, we will promptly arrest that person,” Downs said. “We do not harbor criminals. The Decatur Police Department does arrest dangerous criminals.”
He said the IERB’s decision is based on evidence that was not presented during an hours-long hearing on May 15 regarding Decatur’s case. The city has raised numerous issues with the hearing process and sued IERB over allegations the board violated the state’s open meetings and records laws. Those meetings are still pending.
“We believe all communities, not just Decatur, deserve a fair hearing process and a level playing field, not a political gift to a particular political candidate,” Downs said. “A community can welcome all and still hold them accountable to the rule of law.”
Mayor Patti Garrett called the episode “bizarre.”
“Let me confirm everyone here can hear me, because what we’ve been saying over and over and over again is that we are not a sanctuary city and have no intentions of becoming one,” Garrett said. “And yet, that message has gone unheard and has resulted in one of the most bizarre legal proceedings that can be imagined. We made this clear repeatedly when we declined requests to pursue sanctuary city status.”
The city has been asked to adopt sanctuary city status on two occasions.
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 2017 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.
“In something akin to being in an ‘Alice and Wonderland’ tale, Decatur has been singled out, set up and shot down for what we can only assume is for short term political gain,” Garrett said during Monday’s press conference. “Being subjected to an ever-changing process to us seems a much greater threat to the health of our democracy than the accusations currently at play.”
Police Chief Mike Booker said the department is in agreement with city officials and he invited Cagle to come talk to him about the department’s policies one on one.
“My door is open to him and the coffee is always on,” Booker said. “Come on down to Decatur and let’s talk, not as adversaries in this process but as two people committed to better and safer communities for all.”
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