Small Georgia town restricts cooperation with immigration authorities

CLARKSTON, Ga. (AP) — This small Georgia town just outside Atlanta has joined the counteroffensive that cities across the country are waging against President Donald Trump's immigration policies.

The Clarkston City Council voted unanimously this week to limit the city's cooperation with federal deportation officials, becoming the first city in the state to pass a resolution limiting its cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The resolution, adopted Tuesday and signed by Mayor Ted Terry, states that Clarkston police officers “may not arrest, detain, extend, detain, or transport anyone based solely on an ICE request for arrest.”

“ICE can’t harass New York or San Francisco, but they thought they could probably harass a small, small city,” Terry said.

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent.LM Otero / AP, file

The Clarkston City Council decided to hold the vote after ICE conducted raids on both homes and businesses in the city.

“ICE specifically targeted Somali immigrants,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, an attorney with the nonprofit Project South.

A community of just over 7,000 residents, the City of Clarkston's motto is: “Where Opportunity Can Grow.”

“Half of our residents are foreign born,” said Terry, who said many feel betrayed and angry that local police may be working with ICE. “We want our residents to feel comfortable with our police department.”

Clarkston's diversity and how its demographics have changed over the years was the focus of a 2014 PBS documentary.

In this 2016 photo, Clarkston, Georgia Mayor Ted Terry poses with local students after a speech.Mayor Ted Terry / Mayor Ted Terry

Hours before Tuesday's City Council meeting, local ICE officials met with three city council members who were not present but were informed of the meeting, according to Terry.

“ICE told them that Clarkston would be placed on a list and would lose state federal funding,” said Terry, whose city was expected to receive $6 million in federal grants.


“Wrong,” said Bryan Cox, ICE spokesman for the southern region. Cox said, “There is no way for us to threaten funding,” but ICE will notify headquarters if such a policy is adopted. He warned that there could be consequences for cities that refuse to honor requests from inmates.

Related: Texas bill banning sanctuary cities lands on governor's desk

Trump signed an executive order in January threatening to strip federal funding from jurisdictions if they limited their cooperation with ICE. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has sent letters to nine jurisdictions asking them to prove they are cooperating or risk losing funding, the Washington Post reported.

Texas lawmakers passed a bill Wednesday that, if enacted, would allow local police chiefs to be thrown in prison if they refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

ICE employs 20,000 people nationwide, half the size of the New York Police Department, and relies heavily on cooperation with state and local authorities. But some law enforcement agencies have said that cooperation with federal authorities makes police jobs more difficult because immigrants are afraid to report crimes or come forward if they witness crimes.

Civil rights groups have said that programs involving local officials, such as the so-called 287(g) program, promote racial profiling, similar to what former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio carried out.

Protesters demonstrate in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Atlanta on May 4, 2017.Annie Rosie Ramos/NBC News

“We have four counties that have agreed to stop cooperating with ICE,” said Adelina Nicholls, executive director of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR), “and we are now targeting cities like the city of Atlanta.”

Both Nicholls and Shahshahani have supported cities and counties in Georgia to end cooperation with ICE and human rights lawyers and organizations.

“As Latinos, as immigrants, we demand the closure of ICE,” Nicholls said.

According to GLAHR, in the past six years, more than 48,000 Georgia children who are U.S. citizens have been separated from their mother, father, or both due to ICE detention.

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