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Decatur City Attorney: State immigration board members overstayed their terms

Crime and public safety Decatur slideshow

Decatur City Attorney: State immigration board members overstayed their terms

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

The city of Decatur’s attorney says that two members of the Immigration Enforcement Review Board – including its chairman – are serving on the board illegally.

The board handles complaints related to illegal immigration.

City Attorney Bryan Downs sent a letter to the Assistant Attorney General on July 27. The letter concerns the IERB’s handling of a complaint filed against the city by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. That complaint, which accused the heavily Democratic city of violating state law prohibiting sanctuary cities, became a visible part of Cagle’s campaign for the Republican nomination. He lost to Secretary of State Brian Kemp in last week’s runoff election.

The Immigration Enforcement Review Board issued a preliminary ruling on the complaint days before the Republican gubernatorial primary in May. As the state’s lieutenant governor, Cagle also appoints two members to the IERB.

The IERB’s preliminary ruling determined Decatur is a sanctuary city and said Decatur needs to repeal its policy regarding cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement or risk being stripped of state funding. Decatur in 2017 put a longstanding policy in writing 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.


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The IERB has not officially voted on the preliminary ruling. The board had planned to vote on it at the board’s June 27 meeting, but that was postponed. The board currently does not have any meeting scheduled.

The city has lobbed two lawsuits at the board, accusing it of violating the state’s open meetings and records laws while asking a judge to throw out the preliminary ruling.

Now Downs is accusing Board Chair Shawn Hanley and board member Phil Kent of serving on the board long after their terms have expired. If Downs is correct, it means the two men are illegally serving on the IERB and would have to be replaced.

“Both Mr. Hanley and Mr. Kent were originally appointed to the IERB by Governor Deal on or before September 2, 2011,” Downs said in his letter to the assistant attorney general. “It appears Mr. Hanley and Mr. Kent were never reappointed at the end of their initial term to an additional two-year term, as required by [state law]. As you know, I submitted an Open Records Act request to the IERB, but neither IERB staff nor any of the current members were able to locate any documentation evidencing any re­-appointment. With respect to Mr. Hanley and Mr. Kent, I have followed up with an Open Records Act request to the Governor’s Office, which also was not able to locate any records evidencing re-appointment of these two members at any time. Yesterday, I confirmed with Ms. Carol Schwinne, who serves as the administrative support for the IERB, that she does not know whether any of the current members of the IERB have ever been reappointed.”

Downs said assuming the two men had been reappointed, their terms would’ve expired by now.

“Even if Mr. Hanley and Mr. Kent were re-appointed at the end of their initial term in September 2013, IERB members are term limited by statute to two two-year terms …,” Downs wrote. “Therefore, they apparently have been ‘holding over’ since approximately September 2, 2015, and illegally holding over since approximately September 2, 2017.”

He said there’s no evidence three other board members were reappointed to their positions.

Kent and Hanley had no comment. Kent said he couldn’t comment due to pending litigation. Hanley said he was traveling. Kent had already recused himself hearing the case over allegations of bias in favor of Cagle.

Downs’ letter asked for a response by 5 p.m. Monday, July 30. Downs said the AG’s office told him it doesn’t have a formal response to his letter yet.

To see a copy of Downs’ letter, click here.

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