Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday blasted Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms over her decision last year to bar the city jail from holding federal immigration detainees. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Pence blasts Atlanta mayor over decision to oust ICE from city jail

Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday blasted Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms over her decision last year to bar the city jail from holding federal immigration detainees.

“It is amazing to think the mayor actually said – in her words — she would not be complicit in an immigration policy that intentionally inflicts misery,” said Pence, who met with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials during a stop in Atlanta.

“I would say to the mayor that criminal illegal immigrants – gang members on our streets – are what inflict misery. The flow of illegal drugs like cocaine and meth and fentanyl inflict misery and wreck our families and communities. Human trafficking inflicts misery.”

Flanked by Gov. Brian Kemp, U.S. Sen. David Perdue and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, Pence said ICE officials “do not inflict misery. They bring safety and security to the people of Atlanta, and they deserve the respect of every elected official in this country.”

The mayor has said her move was prompted by the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy on the southwest border, which led to the separation of many of immigrant families last year.

RELATED: Atlanta calls for ICE to move its detainees out of the city jail

“If there are politicians whose family values include ripping children from their parents’ arms,” she said in a prepared statement Thursday, “I fundamentally disagree and believe my decision to end that agreement fully reflects my values.”

In September, she signed an executive order to transfer all remaining ICE detainees out of the city jail and declared that Atlanta would no longer hold anyone for the federal agency.

“Atlanta will no longer be complicit in a policy that intentionally inflicts misery on a vulnerable population without giving any thought to the horrific fallout,” Bottoms said before signing her executive order. “As the birthplace of the civil rights movement, we are called to be better than this.”

Pence took aim at Bottoms on his way to a campaign fundraiser for Perdue, who is up for reelection next year. Among Perdue’s possible Democratic challengers is Stacey Abrams, a former Georgia House minority leader who narrowly lost the race for governor against Kemp last year. After Bottoms signed her executive order last year, a spokeswoman for Abrams commended the mayor’s “efforts to combat the impact of the administration’s cruel and inhumane family separation policy. Anyone who stands against keeping families together lacks any kind of moral compass.”

Pence also sought to link what is happening on the southwest border — including the flow of illegal drugs and human trafficking — to Atlanta.

“I don’t have to tell any of the ICE agents gathered here that we have a crisis on our southern border,” he said. “That crisis on our southern border is driving drugs and crime and human trafficking here in the streets of Atlanta.”

Last month, Trump declared a state of emergency so he could tap into billions of dollars Congress would not give him to expand the U.S.-Mexico border wall. Both houses of Congress have passed legislation to overturn his declaration, prompting Trump’s first veto. But the battle is not over. A coalition of 16 states has filed suit in federal court to block the president.

Pence’s visit to Georgia came the same day the Trump administration released figures showing ICE arrests are down 12 percent nationwide for the first three months of this year compared to the same period last year. ICE arrests are down 16 percent for the same time-frame in the federal agency’s Atlanta area of operations, which includes the rest of Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. ICE attributed the falling numbers to having to dispatch some of its officials to the southwest border.

“Walls work, and we are going to build that wall,” Pence said. “We are going to secure our border, and we are going to continue to support the men and women of ICE here in Georgia and all across the country.”

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