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In a victory for all of Athens, the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office announced last Friday that they will no longer cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE is still a threat to our community, but without cooperation from local law enforcement many Athenians will be protected. Families who would have been ripped apart will remain together. Kids will come home from school and their dad and mom will still be there.
How did this victory come about? It was not won by one person or group or strategy: it was won through an extraordinary amount of work and collaboration by Athens immigrants and their allies. Because the work deserves to be celebrated, and similar victories repeated, we present this account.
Attorney Dustin Kirby writes a letter to Athens-Clarke County Attorney Bill Berryman and public officials explaining why complying with ICE Detainers and holding individuals is in violation of the Fourth Amendment. While not officially a sanctuary city, local law enforcement chooses to not cooperate with ICE.
The Sheriff’s Office reassures the immigrant community and allies that the Sheriff is not cooperating with ICE, despite fears stoked by the Trump administration. The Sheriff’s Office promises leaders in the immigrant community that it will let them know if this policy changes.
The Sheriff’s Office secretly begins honoring ICE detainer requests, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Community leaders, immigrant rights groups, and even the ACC Mayor & Commission are not informed about this change.
Undocumented Athenians who are stopped for even a misdemeanor are held without due process by the ACC Sheriff’s Office and then handed over to and deported by ICE. Needing to get to work and school, and unable to get driver’s licenses legally, many Athenians are arrested for driving without one.
Immigrant rights advocates begin to hear reports of ICE vans seen outside the jail. An A4E member attends a ACC auditor’s meeting that raises red flags about changes in procedure by the sheriff’s office.
Dignidad Inmigrante en Athens (DIA) begins hearing from families in the area that their loved ones, having been arrested on small charges, have been held without due process, handed over to ICE, and deported. A trusted source confirms to the Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition (AIRC) that the Sheriff’s Office is cooperating with ICE. Upon AIRC’s request, the Sheriff’s Office confirms the policy and provides an official policy document.
BOE Member Ovita Thornton helps arrange a meeting between Beto Mendoza, AIRC’s Leanne Purdum, A4E’s Chris Dowd, Tim Denson, Commissioner Kelly Girtz and Sheriff Ira Edwards, to ask Sheriff Edwards to return to his previous policy of non-cooperation with ICE. Sheriff Edwards justifies his stance with misinformation about the immigration process and rhetoric framing immigrants as potential terrorists.
Despite being informed there is zero evidence of ties to terrorism in the migrant community in Athens and immigrants are less likely to commit violent crimes than native-born citizens, and being reminded that holding anyone without due process is illegal, the Sheriff does not change course.
Dignidad Inmigrante en Athens (DIA) formulates their plan to give all their energy to organizing the community directly without engaging with structures of power, while encouraging allied groups to use a variety of tactics, including conversing and negotiating with the sheriff and others in positions of power.
DIA, U-Lead and AIRC continue to provide support to the migrant community, which is now more needed than ever. Many women, particularly, are left as their family’s sole breadwinner and caregiver after their partners are deported.
The CCSD Board of Education passes a resolution acknowledging the negative impact deportation or threat of deportation has on student learning and establishes an action plan for providing all District students equal access to an education, regardless of immigration status.
Commissioner Melissa Link arranges a meeting with Sheriff Edwards. CCSD School Board President Jared Bybee and ACC Internal Auditor Stephanie Maddox join this meeting. Bybee presents the BoE’s Safe School’s resolution to the Sheriff. After lengthy discussion, the Sheriff agrees to appoint a small community task force to reexamine the policy. The same day, Dustin Kirby meets with Sheriff Edwards and his two Chief deputies to reiterate the legal consequences of cooperating with ICE.
Because of something as small as driving without a license, Athenian families are ripped apart without knowing when and if they will ever see each other again. Children spend their holidays without fathers and mothers. Fathers and mothers spend their holidays without their daughters and sons.
DIA, Cosecha, AIRC and the Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition hold NO MÁS MENTIRAS, NO MÁS DEPORTACIONES, a huge protest and vigil at Athens City Hall. Passionate speeches are given by members of the immigrant community. Faith leaders from all over Athens speak out against the deportations in a moving ceremony.
With members selected by the Sheriff, the Sheriff’s Citizen Input Committee is tasked with looking into whether or not the Sheriff’s Office should continue cooperation with ICE. While many consider the creation of the task force to be a stalling tactic, the inclusion of several allies to the immigrant community on the task force encourages others.
In the State Capitol in Atlanta, Republicans introduce SB 452 – legislation that would push local law enforcement to cooperate with ICE. Although such a law would be unconstitutional and could not ultimately hold up in court, the bill’s passage would still mean immeasurable harm to immigrants all over our state. Activist groups across Georgia mobilize against the legislation.
Eleven candidates for ACC Mayor and Commission issue a joint statement against the Sheriff’s cooperation with ICE. Many other leaders and elected officials privately advise him to discontinue as well, while not pressuring him publicly.
After five meetings, the Sheriff’s task force is unable to come to a consensus. Two of the committee members request complete noncompliance with ICE, while two others advocate for creating a list of crimes which they feel should justify detention without due process. In a deadlock, the task force recommend that Sheriff Edwards consult with ACC Attorney Bill Berryman.
Leanne Purdum, of the AIRC Law and Policy Committee, along with attorney Dustin Kirby, meet with ACC Attorney Bill Berryman to voice legal concerns and show that the immigrant community and allies are ready to take legal action against the policy.
SB 452 is being voted by the House. Representative Gonzalez shares images of the revised SB 452 bill that now includes that law enforcement “shall” comply with ICE instead of “may”. Avery Murdie, her Chief of Staff, calls the community to action. A4E urges the community to email key House Representatives. Thanks to public demand, SB 452 is postponed until the 29th.
ACC Attorney Bill Berryman has confirmed that detaining anyone without due process, even non-citizens, is in violation of the Fourth Amendment and unconstitutional. However, immigrants, allies, and Sheriff’s Office alike are aware that SB 452 could pass the house at any time, and if the bill becomes law any threat of litigation would be severely undermined. The deportations continue.
Georgians all over the state have been urging their Representatives to vote against SB 452. Republicans have delayed voting on the unpopular legislation until the final day of the legislative session. The capitol is packed with activists tensely awaiting the bill to be brought to the floor of the house, but under public pressure Republican lawmakers are not able to whip up the votes. When midnight strikes and SB 452 has not been brought to the floor, it is an incredible victory for Georgia’s immigrants and allies who shone a light on legislation which otherwise could have been quietly pushed through.
AIRC and Ben and Jerry’s hosts a Free Cone Day where customers are encouraged to call in to the sheriff. Once again the Sheriff’s Office is flooded with calls. A group of students from UGA’s School of Social Work start a letter writing campaign urging Sheriff Edwards to reverse the policy, for their senior capstone.
The Sheriff’s Office reverses their policy of cooperation with ICE. Without the legal cover SB 452 would have provided, and continuing to be under intense pressure from the community, the Sheriff’s Office releases their public statement that they would no longer be cooperating with ICE.
Athens is still not safe from ICE. As long as there is no real path to citizenship with permanent protection, America’s un(der)documented immigrants will be forced to live in the shadows: providing America’s food, caring for America’s children, building America’s homes, and fueling America’s economy while never having access to what US citizens take for granted. While ICE exists, America’s un(der)documented immigrants will be under constant threat of deportation, losing everything they’ve built and the families and communities they love.
We must continue to stand up for one another
ICE attacks are on ourselves and our neighbors, our friends, co-workers, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives. We must fight for pro-immigrant policies, like driver’s licenses for undocumented people at the state level, and decriminalizing driving without a license at the local level. And we must fight for immigration reform that promotes a path to citizenship for all those who are already here in the United States. Immigrants are an inextricable part of this community we all share, and cherish, and call home.
We are Athens together.
We must stand together and protect one another. Together we must build a future where no one is judged or oppressed because of where they were born, and where all Athenians have equal access to security, dignity and justice.
– April 19th, 2018, Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition and Athens for Everyone.
Thank you to the many individuals who collaborated on this account.
Because so many people contributed both through public and private action, key events may have accidentally not been included here. Please contact us with additions and corrections.