Georgia’s Immigration Enforcement Review Board would be dissolved if Gov. Brian Kemp signs House Bill 553, which state lawmakers quietly approved on the final day of the legislative session. Brant Sanderlin bsanderlin@ajc.com
Photo: Brant Sanderlin
Photo: Brant Sanderlin

Measure would dissolve Georgia’s Immigration Enforcement Review Board

House Bill 553 now awaiting Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature

Georgia’s controversial Immigration Enforcement Review Board — created eight years ago to hold state and local officials accountable — would be dissolved under a measure state lawmakers quietly approved on the final day of this year’s legislative session.

Appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor, and House speaker, the panel looks into complaints from the public about violations of immigration-related state laws. It can issue subpoenas, place witnesses under oath and hand out fines.

Originally filed to make changes to the State Victim Services Commission, House Bill 553 underwent heavy revisions before both chambers voted unanimously for it, sending it to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature.

A spokesman for Kemp declined to comment on whether the governor would sign the bill.

In its first six years of existence, the board received 20 complaints to investigate. All but one came from the same person: D.A. King, a longtime anti-illegal immigration activist from Marietta who said he helped develop the comprehensive state law that created the board, House Bill 87. By October of 2017, only one of those 20 complaints had resulted in a fine.

“It was timely. It has served its purpose and it was actually not functioning as originally intended,” state Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, who sponsored HB 553.

In-Depth: Georgia’s immigration enforcement panel draws scrutiny

Last year, Decatur sued the board, alleging it was violating the state’s open meetings and open records laws. The board ultimately settled with the city, agreeing to make its proceedings more transparent and pay Decatur $12,000 in attorney fees and other costs.

More: Decatur, Georgia Immigration Enforcement Review Board settle lawsuit

Also, two board members, including its chairman, resigned after Decatur’s city attorney asked the Attorney General’s office last year to look into whether they had overstayed their term in office and should be removed.

More: Two members of Georgia immigration panel quit amid term limit dispute

The board’s current chairman, James Balli, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Former board member Phil Kent said the panel appeared “dormant” after he resigned from it last year.

“While I’m proud of the work the IERB did since 2011 to try enforcing laws based on citizen complaints, it could only do limited investigations without a staff,” he said. “It is very encouraging, however, that enhanced federal government law enforcement efforts can and will perform a far more effective and widespread job in Georgia.”

Decatur City Manager Andrea Arnold referred questions to HB 553’s sponsors.

“To the best of our knowledge,” she said in an email, “this bill was initiated at the state level and the City of Decatur was not involved with this legislation.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.