Two Athens-area lawmakers came out in opposition Friday to a reported Clarke County sheriff’s department policy change regarding illegal immigrants.
State reps. Deborah Gonzalez (D-Athens) and Jonathan Wallace (D-Watkinsville), said they “are concerned about a recent policy change made by the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office with respect to turning over undocumented immigrants to U.S. Immigration Control and Enforcement (ICE) detention.
“This new policy is especially concerning given the questions that surround the legality of some ICE operations by the Trump Administration and the fact that there is no compelling reason for a change in local policy at this time,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement.
In July 2017, according to the Red & Black, the sheriff’s office began cooperating with ICE officials in accordance with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to detain undocumented immigrants with outstanding warrants.
“This is also a surprising reversal of the community policing approach followed by both the Athens-Clarke County Police Department and the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office in recent years,” Wallace and Gonzalez said. “The recent change in policy stands in stark contrast to the community policing approach that is strongly supported by local residents.”
"The U.S. Department of Homeland Security revised their policy on issuing detainers to be more attentive to probable cause issues," said the department's Capt. Hayden Hodges. "In light of these changes, and in keeping with our role and responsibility for community safety with respect to the detention of individuals with outstanding warrants, we now recognize ICE detainers that are supported by a warrant for arrest or a warrant for removal/deportation.
"We are not seeking to arrest immigrants based on their lawful status in this country, nor are we participating in any immigration roundups with federal officials," Hodges said. "The sheriff’s office only detains undocumented immigrants who have been arrested on other criminal charges and are wanted by immigration officials."
“When people feel interaction with law enforcement could result in themselves or a loved one being arrested and possibly deported, it shuts down communication and cooperation between the community and its officers and reduces safety for everyone,” Wallace said. “We urge the sheriff to listen to his constituents and return to a focus on local law enforcement, leaving immigration control to federal agencies.”
“Continuing this policy change carries risk for Athens-Clarke County because not only could the county be sued for violating the constitutional rights of residents by detaining them without a warrant, but holding people for longer than necessary it is a costly burden on our jail,” Gonzalez said.