Less than a week before Georgians head to the polls in their nationally watched primaries, a war of words is continuing to escalate between the GOP’s leading gubernatorial candidate and a major metro Atlanta city.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who is leading a field of seven Republicans in a new 11Alive poll, filed a complaint Nov. 7, 2017, against the city of Decatur to the Georgia Immigration Enforcement Review Board. Cagle is alleging the city is ordering police officers not to arrest violent felons based solely on their immigration status.

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11Alive Poll | Georgia governor's race

The board met Tuesday to review Cagle’s complaint. Cagle himself did not attend, which prompted a stern rebuke from City Attorney Bryan Downs.

“Mr. Cagle’s continued attacks on the men and women of the City of Decatur Police Department are false, reckless and deplorable,” Downs said. “It is unfortunate that Mr. Cagle actively refused to attend the hearing yesterday and is instead hiding behind his campaign handlers. If he had actually been there, he would have no excuse for misstating the actual evidence that was presented.

“Here is what it really comes down to. Casey Cagle is a long-time politician who apparently will do anything and say anything in order to get elected governor.”

Cagle said Decatur officials admitted that police officers have been ordered not to detain and deliver to federal authorities violent felons who have active deportation orders from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He also said the city admitted it has a policy that, if any officers detain violent illegal aliens, they will be subject to disciplinary action, including firing.

“The evidence presented at the hearing by the city itself backs up my contention that Decatur is violating state law and acting as a sanctuary city,” Cagle said on Wednesday. “What floors me is that Decatur provides more leniency to criminal illegal immigrants than it does to citizens who’ve committed a similar crime.

“Decatur's reckless policy is endangering Georgia's families, and putting citizens at risk during a time when drug traffickers and MS13 gang members are spreading across the country.”

The board adjourned without issuing a ruling.

GEORGIA VOTES 2018 | FULL COVERAGE

Downs denied Cagle’s accusations.

“Cagle has singled out for condemnation a policy of the city of Decatur Police Department, which has no jail and has not had a request from ICE in at least 28 years,” Downs said. “He continues to mislead the public about the actual Decatur Police Department policy and the actual Georgia law that is at issue.

“In contrast, Decatur Police Chief Mike Booker is a true public servant who has spent the past three decades protecting the public from violent criminals, literally putting his life on the line many times,” Downs said. “When there was an actual hearing, Cagle was nowhere to be found, while Chief Booker voluntarily answered questions, under oath, about the many valid reasons for his policy.”

Georgia Votes 2018: Early voting enters final week before primary day

The issue of immigration and sanctuary cities is a hot topic among this year's GOP gubernatorial hopefuls who are running to replace Gov. Nathan Deal, who cannot run for reelection. In the poll, Cagle is leading Secretary of State Brian Kemp, 35 percent to 17 percent, with state Sen. Hunter Hill coming in third at 10 percent.

Kemp has made illegal immigration a focus of his campaign, with his commercials promising to track and deport individuals who are here illegally.

Three Questions for Casey Cagle