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Immigration board delays decision on complaint against Decatur

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Immigration board delays decision on complaint against Decatur

City Attorney Bryan Downs File Photo by Mariann Martin

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City Attorney Bryan Downs presented evidence during the May 15 Immigration Enforcement Review Board Hearing which was attended by several city officials, including Mayor Patti Garrett (left) and Police Chief Mike Booker (right). Photo by Mariann Martin

By Mariann Martin, contributor 

A complaint filed by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle against the city of Decatur is simply a political ploy to further his gubernatorial campaign, Decatur’s city attorney said during a May 15 public hearing in front of the state Immigration Enforcement Review Board.

“All he did was sign his name on a complaint. And he’s been talking all day about a crackdown on sanctuary cities,” city attorney Bryan Downs told members of Immigration Enforcement Review Board. “He used his tax-payer funded office, he used his tax-payer funded attorney, he used his tax-payer funded notary, he used his tax-payer funded staff to draft these letters on an official letterhead. He used the official, tax-payer funded office to file a complaint against a city that is 4.4 square miles, that has 22,000 residents.

Cagle, who filed the complaint in November 2017, did not attend Tuesday’s hearing. His General Counsel and Director of Policy, Irene Munn, was present, but she did not take part in proceedings.

Downs said, “He wasn’t man enough to come here today and make these allegations and put his hand up and swear under oath to answer questions. Casey Cagle has used this board, has used the city of Decatur…for his political gain.”

In the complaint, Cagle accuses Decatur city officials of violating state law barring sanctuary cities, saying a police department policy constitutes a “sanctuary policy.”


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Before he filed the complaint, Cagle posted a Facebook post complaining about “liberal politicians in the City of Decatur,” who put the interest of illegal immigrants ahead of citizens.

After the hearing, IERB Chair Shawn Hanley said Cagle filed the complaint as a private citizen and has every right to be heard. Hanley said he is not concerned politicians will use the board formed in 2011 to hear citizen complaints for political purposes.

“He’s an individual filing a complaint, he’s a citizen of Georgia…I think the complaint in front of this board about Decatur is a relevant and real complaint,” Hanley said.

Two members of the seven-member board, Hanley and Vice-chair James Balli, have been designated to hear evidence regarding the complaint against Decatur. After the nearly 4-hour meeting, the two said they would consider the evidence presented and make a ruling at a further date. If Hanley and Balli rule against the city, Decatur can appeal the decision to the full board.

The IERB did not present any evidence against the city of Decatur in the meeting, saying the complaint and the police department policy on which the complaint is based constitutes the evidence against the city. Downs called four witnesses to testify against the complaint: Decatur Police Chief Mike Booker, Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett, Decatur City Manager Peggy Merriss and Rusi Patel, Senior Associate General Counsel for the Georgia Municipal Association.

Decatur city officials all testified Decatur is not a sanctuary city under the definition. The city has twice declined to declare itself a sanctuary city, even after some citizens specifically asked the city to do so.

Chief Booker, who has served as the city’s police chief for more than 12 years, said he drafted the police department policy in question in September 2017 to codify what had been unwritten department policy. The policy was written after several groups asked about the police department policy, officials testified.

Booker said he wrote the policy based on his decades of experience as a police officer and his knowledge of police legal issues. He also consulted with city officials and city attorneys. The policy is like policies enacted by cities and counties across the state, including Atlanta, DeKalb County and Fulton County, Booker said.

The policy states, among other things, that the department will arrest individuals who have active judicial warrants against them but will not arrest individuals with administrative warrants against them. The policy does not prohibit officers from providing information to federal immigration officials or cooperating with officials.

“We have one set of rules and they apply to everyone,” Booker said, noting the police department has never actually had any reason to interact with federal immigration officials.

The city is less than 4 percent Hispanic, while about 70 percent of its population is white and 20 percent is black, Mayor Garrett testified.

Local governments are not required to detain people who have a federal detention order against them, Patel testified. The federal government cannot mandate that local governments do so, he noted.

States can mandate that local governments honor the detainers, but Georgia does not have such a law, Patel testified. He noted that legislators have attempted to pass such a law but were not successful in doing so.

Georgia’s current law only relates to communication and cooperation with federal officials, something that Decatur’s policy allows, Patel said. He testified that he doesn’t believe Decatur’s policy violates state law.

After all the evidence was presented, Bali and Hanley held a short executive session to consider their next steps. They then said they needed more time to make a decision and would call a public meeting at a later date.

Downs said he was glad the board was taking more time to consider all the evidence presented.

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