Two members of Georgia immigration panel quit amid term limit dispute

The chairman and another member of Georgia’s Immigration Enforcement Review Board have resigned amid a contentious legal battle with Decatur over its policy of limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

The panel’s chairman, Shawn Hanley, and board member Phil Kent sent messages to Gov. Nathan Deal’s office Monday announcing their resignations. Deal appointed them to the board in 2011.

“It was time to go,” Hanley told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “A lot of this is in the courts right now and the last thing I want to do is be responsible for taxpayer funds defending an ability to stay on the board when the fact is that it is probably a 50-50 chance whether I would be or wouldn’t be.”

Kent offered similar reasons.

“I didn’t want the term limit thing to be dragging on and be a distraction,” Kent said.

Hanley and Kent's resignations came after Decatur's city attorney asked the Attorney General's office last month to look into whether board members have overstayed their term in office and should be removed. In his letter, Decatur city attorney Bryan Downs said five of the seven members – including Hanley and Kent — have served since the board's creation in 2011, despite a state law that limits members to two terms of two years each.

“If these board members are not supposed to be serving under the law, then they need to step aside,” Downs told the AJC.

Downs inquired about the board members while defending the city against a complaint filed by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. Cagle, a former Republican candidate for governor, has alleged a city policy that limits cooperation with federal immigration authorities violates state law against “sanctuary policies.” Decatur has vigorously denied that.

On Friday, Decatur resident Mark Douglas, a professor of Christian ethics and the director of the Master of Divinity Program at Columbia Theological Seminary, filed suit in Fulton County Superior Court, saying Hanley and Kent should be removed from the board because their terms had expired. Downs is representing Douglas in court.

“For the sake of its credibility alone, the IERB should be properly constituted and held to standards that are clear and fair and were already explicit in its organizing documents,” Douglas said in a statement issued through Downs. “As a Christian ethicist and Georgia citizen, I am interested in seeing true justice prevail throughout the state via its laws. An illegally-constituted board that does not represent the range of positions of Georgia’s citizens and uses its power capriciously needs to be challenged.”

Also on Monday, Deal appointed Rey Martinez of Walton County and Rachel Little of Gwinnett County to the board. Martinez was elected mayor of Loganville last year. Little is chairman of the Georgia Republican Party’s 4th Congressional District.