Decatur says it won't detain illegal immigrants without warrant

Decatur says it won't detain illegal immigrants without warrant

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Decatur city leaders are pushing back after the Georgia Immigration Enforcement Review Board said Saturday that the town probably violated state law when it said it would not detain illegal immigrants without a judicial warrant.

If the board follows through on its proposed recommendation, Decatur could lose millions in state funding.

“I won’t say I was totally surprised by what the decision was,” said Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett, “I was extremely surprised by the timing.  That was surprising and disappointing to me that we were notified on a Saturday three days before a gubernatorial primary.”

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The initial complaint against Decatur was filed last year by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who is running for governor.

Cagle is campaigning across Georgia, but in a statement, he said, “While other states such as California actively promote sanctuary cities, today’s decision shows that the state of Georgia will not tolerate these illegal policies.”


Both Mayor Garrett and Police Chief Mike Booker insist Decatur is not a sanctuary city.

“There are so many definitions of what a sanctuary city is, but we are not harboring fugitives,” Booker said.  “We’re not hiding people that may or may not be illegal.”

Chief Booker said his officers will cooperate with federal immigration agents if they hold a judicial warrant, meaning a criminal warrant signed by a judge.

But, Booker said, his officers will not help enforce so-called Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers, meaning requests to hold an alleged illegal immigrant.

He feels enforcing such a request violates the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution and makes the city liable if the detainer is wrong.

“We are not a sanctuary city,” said Mayor Garrett. “We have not adopted sanctuary city policies, but we do have a police force that we think upholds the Constitution of the United States and the Fourth Amendment.”

Decatur has also sued the Georgia Immigration Enforcement Review Board, alleging it violated the state’s open records and open meetings laws.

The board’s decision Saturday is only a proposed opinion.  It could make that recommendation official at its June 27 hearing.