State immigration board settles Casey Cagle’s complaint against DecaturCity Attorney Bryan Downs, left, and Mayor Patti Garrett, right. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt
When former Lt. Governor Casey Cagle filed a complaint against the city of Decatur with the state Immigration Enforcement Review Board, the city did not back down.
On Jan. 8, the complaint was resolved and the little-known state immigration board has become more transparent as a result.
Cagle accused Decatur of being a “sanctuary city,” harboring people suspected of being in the country illegally and refusing to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The city said it does not detain immigrants without a valid warrant from ICE and never has. Decatur doesn’t have a jail. What the city did do was put a longstanding policy in writing regarding cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The case had political overtones. Cagle filed his complaint while trying to win the Republican gubernatorial primary, which he ultimately lost to former Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who went on to be elected governor. Cagle appointed members to the IERB and the board’s preliminary May 19 ruling was issued a few days before the Republican primary.
Decatur fired back against the complaint with lawsuits challenging the board’s compliance with state transparency laws and questioning the legitimacy of board members who had overstayed their terms, prompting two members of the board to resign.
The case, which has dragged on since November 2017, was quietly resolved on Tuesday morning, Jan. 8. The IERB settled both lawsuits filed by the city by agreeing to improve its compliance with state Open Records and Open Meetings laws. In exchange, Decatur removed a provision from its policy regarding ICE cooperation that said officers would face disciplinary action if they violated the policy. City Attorney Bryan Downs said that line was unnecessary because officers who violate any policy already are subject to disciplinary action.
The settlement also declares a May 19 preliminary ruling issued on Cagle’s behalf “null and void.”
In addition, the IERB will have to pay the city $12,000 in attorney’s fees. The board definitively ruled that Decatur’s policy does not violate the state’s “Sanctuary Policy” statute.
Mayor Patti Garrett attended the meeting as well and said she was glad the case was over.
“They did the right thing,” Garrett said. ” … I certainly have to express appreciation to Bryan Downs, because he has represented us extremely well. We really wanted to go to bat for our police department and we have been able to do that.”
Garrett said she was pleased that Decatur’s decision to dispute the complaint resulted in making the board more transparent. The IERB has agreed to start publishing summaries of its meetings, adopt a regular meeting schedule and make public records available that the board had previously withheld.
Downs said other local governments facing IERB complaints have opted to back down. He said the city was prepared to continue fighting if the IERB did not agree to a resolution.
“Fortunately, we didn’t have to keep fighting, because the reconstituted board decided it was time for this to be done,” Downs said. “It is the same policy that was in place 15 months ago. [They agreed] that it doesn’t violate the law.”
“It’s a relief, really, to have this off our plates,” Garrett added.
Cagle, whose interest in the case waned after he lost the primary, was not at the Jan. 8 meeting.