Protesters shout at Athens mayor over city’s immigration policy during safety news conference

ATHENS, Ga. — Leaders with the City of Athens held a news conference to discuss public safety improvements in the wake of a student’s death on the University of Georgia’s campus. A group of protesters attended and it quickly got heated.

Channel 2′s Michael Seiden was in Athens Wednesday, where mayor Kelly Girtz spoke to the community promising new investments in public safety following the murder of 22-year-old Laken Riley.

“I empathize with the frustration and anger so many are feeling right now,” Girtz said.

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Police quickly arrested and charged Jose Ibarra, who entered the country illegally, with Riley’s murder. The Athens-Clarke County Police Chief Jerry Saulters confirmed Ibarra had been arrested in October for shoplifting and released.

“He was cited for certain misdemeanor offenses,” the chief said.

But there were no warrants or holds by federal immigration officials to keep him in jail.

Girtz spoke in front of a small group of protestors holding signs and said they followed the state law that bans cities and counties from adopting “sanctuary city” policy in order to get state funding.

“And no policies have been adopted by the mayor or commission that have created a sanctuary city status in Athens,” he said.

One citizen was not happy with his explanation.

“You’re insulting our intelligence, sir! You need to resign!” protesters yelled “You’re a liar! You are guilty and got blood on your hands for this murder sir.”


Girtz insisted that Athens is not a sanctuary city.

“No policies have been adopted by the mayor or commission that have created a sanctuary city status in Athens,” Girtz said.

Channel 2 Action News asked county officials about a resolution passed by the commission and signed by Girtz in 2019 that said:

“The Athens-Clarke County Unified Government is welcoming to people from all lands and backgrounds and strives to foster a community where individuals and families of all statuses feel safe, are able to prosper, and can breathe free…”

“…that all people, including those without documentation feel welcome and comfortable interacting with local law enforcement, their local government, and all services provided by such.”

When he was asked if that gives the impression Athens is a sanctuary city, Girtz cited rhetoric by then-President Donald Trump at the time and rise of white supremacists and continued to support the language of the resolution.

“We want to create a stable environment for people in our communities and when that community is disrupted by hate or vitriol, that’s not a safe environment for school children and families to live in,” the mayor said.

Besides the shouting and interruptions, none of the protesters were arrested or removed. Girtz says he will go in front of the commission next Tuesday, asking for additional funding for public safety.

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