Decatur and the law firm that represents it are suing Georgia’s Immigration Enforcement Review Board, alleging the appointed panel is violating the state’s open meetings and open records laws.
Filed Wednesday in the Fulton County Superior Court, the pair of lawsuits from the city and Wilson, Morton & Downs allege the board meets irregularly with no public notice, does not provide summaries of its proceedings and withholds pending case documents that should be made public, including its own written decisions as well as submissions from people who appear before it.
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“The veiled manner in which the IERB is conducting its proceedings is not just detrimental to the city of Decatur, but also to the public as a whole,” Bryan Downs, the city’s attorney, said in a prepared statement. “With complaints pending against local governments and school systems across the state, Georgians from the coast to the mountains should be able to follow developments in these cases. But the IERB’s closed-government practices reduce, and in some instances prevent, the public and the press from monitoring the IERB’s work.”
Board member Phil Kent issued a statement Wednesday, saying he had received copies of the lawsuits: “We will review and have a more detailed answer soon.”
The lawsuits come as the board is considering a complaint Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle — a Republican candidate for governor — filed with the board against Decatur.
At issue is a Decatur policy that prohibits city police from arresting, detaining or transporting anyone based solely on a detainer from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Such detainers are requests to hold people for up to 48 hours beyond when they would normally be released so the agency can pick them up and seek to deport them. Critics point out that courts have found complying with ICE detainers can violate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. Cagle has accused Decatur of violating a state law prohibiting “sanctuary policies.” The city denies that.
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Last month, Kent said he would abstain from hearing Cagle’s complaint after Decatur accused Kent of being “clearly biased and openly hostile” toward the city. Kent denied the city’s allegations, saying he had not prejudged the case. But he said he would abstain “rather than allow this baseless motion from Decatur to delay the process.”
Board chairman Shawn Hanley issued a separate statement about the lawsuits Thursday, saying the board had hoped Decatur “would be cooperative, accountable and transparent after a complaint was filed against the city.”
“An active investigation into the complaint accusations has been ongoing for two months and during this time the city has refused to cooperate with investigators and used delaying tactics to stall this process,” he said. “The IERB takes all of its obligations seriously and we look forward to defending ourselves in court against these frivolous allegations by Decatur.”