Georgia sanctuary cities: What to know about police and undocumented immigrants

Georgia law has banned cities and counties from adopting a “sanctuary policy” for nearly 15 years, and lawmakers in 2016 required local governments to certify they’re complying with federal immigration policies involving undocumented immigrants to receive state funding.

But some local governments have limited their cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Athens-Clarke County authorities say they check the criminal history of detainees to hold anyone with outstanding warrants but don’t keep unauthorized immigrants jailed if they have no criminal history.

Jose Antonio Ibarra, now charged with murder in the death of nursing student Laken Hope Riley on the campus of the University of Georgia, lives in Athens, but is not a U.S. citizen. Ibarra is from Venezuela and was arrested in 2022 after unlawfully entering the United States from Mexico, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Sunday. After illegally crossing the border near El Paso, Texas, he was paroled and released for further processing, according to ICE.

Federal prosecutors charged his brother, Diego Ibarra, who also has been living in Athens, with possessing a fake U.S. permanent resident card late Friday. Diego Ibarra, 29 and also from Venezuela, was criminally charged after authorities became aware of his presence in the U.S. as part of the UGA homicide investigation.

Policies regarding police interactions with undocumented immigrants have been in the news elsewhere. For example, when she was in office, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed an executive order in 2018 barring the city jail from holding U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detainees. Then-Vice President Mike Pence blasted that decision during one visit with ICE officials in Atlanta.

Bottoms had said her decision was prompted by the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy on the southwest border, which led to the separation of many immigrant families.

  • In September 2014, Fulton County commissioners passed a resolution urging then-Sheriff Ted Jackson to block ICE from using county facilities for “investigative interviews or other purposes.”
  • Two months later, the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office announced it would no longer comply with ICE detainers.
  • And a month after that, the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office said it wouldn’t honor those detainers without a warrant or “sufficient probable cause.”
  • In 2017, the City Council in Clarkston in DeKalb county, home to many immigrants, voted to limit cooperation with federal deportation officers.

-Reporters Greg Bluestein and Jeremy Redmon contributed to this article.