How one state strug­gles to en­force its im­mi­gra­tion law

The Korea Times - - FEATURE - By Teresa Wiltz

DE­CATUR, Ga. — Over the past few years, state­houses around the coun­try have tried to rein in cities deemed too friendly to un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants. But Ge­or­gia is the only state that’s cre­ated an in­de­pen­dent board with one spe­cific mis­sion: Pun­ish­ing cities that aren’t do­ing enough to crack down on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

Typ­i­cally, that re­spon­si­bil­ity falls to state at­tor­neys gen­eral. But in Ge­or­gia, res­i­dents can file a com­plaint against any city or county they judge to be break­ing state im­mi­gra­tion law.

Un­til a re­cent case against the small lib­eral town of De­catur, though, all but one of the com­plaints had come from one pri­vate cit­i­zen, an avowed anti-il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion ac­tivist who’s made this his life’s call­ing.

Then the lieu­tenant gover­nor, Repub­li­can Casey Ca­gle, filed a com­plaint ac­cus­ing De­catur of vi­o­lat­ing state im­mi­gra­tion law last year as he was run­ning for gover­nor. And on Face­book, he threat­ened to yank its state fund­ing.

“Lib­eral politi­cians in the City of De­catur are try­ing to put the in­ter­ests of crim­i­nal il­le­gal aliens ahead of our safety — and I will not al­low it!” Ca­gle wrote. (He did not re­spond to re­peated re­quests from State­line for com­ment.)

Few lo­cals have heard of it, but Ge­or­gia’s Im­mi­gra­tion En­force­ment Re­view Board was cre­ated seven years ago, when the state passed one of the na­tion’s strictest im­mi­gra­tion laws. Try­ing to keep track of the le­gal com­ings and go­ings of the IERB, as the board is known, can be dizzy­ing.

Most of its mem­bers are not at­tor­neys or im­mi­gra­tion ex­perts. All are vol­un­teers — and all are po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees, which in this red state makes it a ma­jor­ity Repub­li­can board.

And while tech­ni­cally not a court, the board has been given many of the pow­ers of a court: It in­ves­ti­gates al­leged wrong­do­ing, sub­poe­nas wit­nesses and hears tes­ti­mony.

The board has the power to rec­om­mend sanc­tions against mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties found to be in the wrong — and ul­ti­mately, with­hold mil­lions in state fund­ing from them as pun­ish­ment.

So far, though, it has levied just one last­ing fine, for $1,000 against At­lanta. A hand­ful of small cities, though, have been forced to spend time and money de­fend­ing them­selves against ac­cu­sa­tions.

Two of the im­mi­gra­tion board mem­bers re­fused to step down years after their terms ended, and did so only in 2018, when they were sued by a De­catur res­i­dent and ac­cused of vi­o­lat­ing Ge­or­gia law.

“The Ge­or­gia board is an ex­am­ple of what not to do, rather than a model for some­thing ef­fec­tive,” said Jes­sica Vaughan, direc­tor of pol­icy stud­ies for the Cen­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies, a na­tional re­search and ad­vo­cacy group that fa­vors lim­ited im­mi­gra­tion to the United States.

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