As Donald Trump was being sworn in as president on Friday , hundreds of demonstrators called for Atlanta to declare itself a “sanctuary city,” a move that could shield many unauthorized immigrants from deportation.
Calling themselves the Georgia J20 Coalition, the demonstrators were reacting to Trump’s campaign pledge to crack down on illegal immigration.
Many of the demonstrators denounced Trump as they marched through downtown to City Hall on Friday, shouting “Not my president!”
Trump has said he wants to start mass deportations and cancel an Obama administration program that is temporarily sparing more than 700,000 young immigrants from expulsion. The activists specifically called on Atlanta to stop an arrangement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in which immigrants facing deportation are being held in the city jail.
Dozens of municipalities in other states have already declared themselves sanctuary cities, and Trump has vowed to cancel their federal funding. But Georgia law prohibits local governments from adopting sanctuary policies, or rules that would stop them from fully cooperating with federal immigration authorities.
“We are led by directly impacted communities who know the growing climate of islamophobia, hatred, racism and xenophobia has poisoned our political process and damaged our society’s moral compass,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, the legal and advocacy director for an immigrant rights advocacy group called Project South. “We demand that the City of Atlanta declare itself a sanctuary city by protecting the human rights of all of our communities.”
Among the coalition’s members are Black Lives Matter Atlanta, the Georgia Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Georgia AFL-CIO, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
After Trump’s victory in November, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed pledged to support young immigrants who have been granted a temporary reprieve from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. About 23,000 people living in Georgia have been accepted into the program so far. The mayor, however, did not address whether Atlanta would go the sanctuary city route when he spoke on Nov. 28.
“Atlanta cannot declare itself a sanctuary city as this violates state law,” Jenna Garland, a spokeswoman for Reed, said in an email Friday. “Instead, Mayor Reed has focused on making it clear that Atlanta is and will remain a welcoming city, including implementing numerous policies and programs to make our city more accessible and friendly to immigrants and foreign-born residents. This work is documented at www.welcomingatlanta.com. Mayor Reed has not shied away from his steadfast support for immigrant communities and has no plans to do so under the new administration.”
A discussion about creating a sanctuary for unauthorized immigrants on the Emory University campus ignited a controversy last year. And that prompted a Republican state lawmaker to introduce legislation this month that would block state funding to private colleges that create “sanctuary policies.” Emory has said it would follow state and federal laws.
The activists also demanded the city do many other things, including: affirm its commitment to enforce wage theft and labor violations regardless of immigration status, oppose any registries based on religion or national origin and stop development projects that push people out of their homes and neighborhoods.
Michael Stark, a rare book dealer from Newnan, carried a homemade “Dump Trump” sign as he marched with the demonstrators. He said he was “terrified” by Trump’s election victory. Asked what he was scared about, Stark said: “Everything that comes out of his mouth.”
“It’s kind of surreal to see him as our president,” he said.
Stark’s friend, Ray Dafrico, a musician from Atlanta, carried a bright orange sign that declared: “Save U.S. Stop Trump.” He cited Russian meddling and other irregularities in the presidential election, saying: “We feel this election was bogus. There is just a lot of shady stuff going on. He is not releasing his tax returns.”