Capitol Recap: Number of immigrants held in Georgia rises sharply

The Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin is the third-largest immigrant jail nationwide, with a maximum capacity exceeding 1,900 beds. (Lautaro Grinspan)

Credit: Lautaro Grinspan

Credit: Lautaro Grinspan

The Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin is the third-largest immigrant jail nationwide, with a maximum capacity exceeding 1,900 beds. (Lautaro Grinspan)

State ranks fifth for inmates in ICE detention

Georgia is seeing a surge in the number of people in its immigration detention facilities.

As of mid-May, the federal government was detaining 2,408 immigrants in Georgia facilities, an increase of nearly 54% over May 2023, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

Georgia now holds the fifth-largest number of people in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention.

Detentions are soaring nationally.

In May 2023, there were about 21,300 people in immigrant detention across the U.S. A year later, that number was roughly 36,500, a 70% rise. During that time span, the country saw some of the highest recorded tallies of illegal border crossings from Mexico.

Last month, just over 28,000 immigrants were booked into detention, the highest level since the 2024 fiscal year began in October.

Policy changes at both the state and federal levels, including an executive order by the Biden administration restricting access to the asylum application process for border crossers, could force those numbers to rise even more.

The majority of Georgia’s immigrant detainees go to the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin. The private prison company CoreCivic runs the facility, which housed an average of 1,528 detainees per day as of May, according to the Syracuse clearinghouse. That makes Stewart the third-largest immigrant jail nationwide, with a maximum capacity exceeding 1,900 beds.

Local immigrant advocates have expressed concern about the health and safety of detainees. Two people have died this year in Georgia ICE detention.

Former state Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, never disclosed what he did with $630,000 in leftover campaign cash after he left office in 2015. This past week, the state ethics commission dismissed a case against him, meaning he never will. BRANT SANDERLIN /BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM


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An unsolved mystery: What happened to Balfour’s campaign cash remains a secret

Call in Scooby, Shaggy and Velma. Georgia has a mystery on its hands.

What happened to $630,000 in leftover campaign money that former longtime Georgia Senate leader Don Balfour did not report after leaving office in 2015?

State law allows legislators and legislative candidates to raise and spend money to win or maintain their office. But once they leave office, they have only a few options for what to do with the money: They can return it to their donors, give it to another campaign or distribute it to nonprofits.

Former lawmakers must file campaign disclosure reports annually until all the money in their accounts is dispersed and they file termination reports.

Balfour did not do that.

Instead, he ran out the clock.

The state ethics commission voted in 2020 to reopen what appeared to be a dead case against Balfour a week after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported it was being dismissed by the panel’s staff.

Balfour’s lawyer, Doug Chalmers, responded that the former Gwinnett County lawmaker had closed his campaign account several years earlier. State law limits how long campaign bank records must be maintained.

It also sets a statute of limitations for the panel to make ethics cases.

At the time, the limit was a year. The Balfour case changed that. In its wake, the General Assembly passed a law giving the commission three years after a campaign finance violation occurs to bring a case against a politician.

Too little, too late in Balfour’s case.

This past week, David Emadi, executive secretary of the commission, moved to dismiss Balfour’s case, and this time the commission didn’t object.

“No one is happy with this result, I want that to be crystal clear,” Emadi said. “But we are not going to move beyond what the law allows us to do.”


Vice President Kamala Harris returned to Atlanta this past week for her second visit in five days to participate in a gun control event put on by hip-hop artist Quavo of the Migos. (Arvin Temkar / AJC)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Vice president’s latest visit to Georgia focuses on gun control

Vice President Kamala Harris this past week made her second visit to Atlanta in five days, this time to spread a message of gun control.

The venue was a summit held by the Rocket Foundation, a nonprofit created by Atlanta-area rapper Quavo of the Migos that works to end gun violence following the shooting death in 2022 of his nephew and group member Takeoff.

Harris said the Biden administration backs a number of steps to curb gun violence, including requiring background checks for every gun purchase and banning the sale of assault-style rifles.

“Too many people, who I will call cowards, have been pushing this false choice that you’re either in favor of the Second Amendment or you want to take everyone’s guns away,” she said.

Harris’ visit helped shine a light on FBI data for the first quarter of 2024 showing a 15% nationwide drop in violent crime over the first quarter of 2023. In Atlanta, violent crime fell from 800 reported cases in the first three months of 2023 to 656 over that same period this year. The number of reported homicides in Atlanta, however, increased from 23 in the first quarter of last year to 27 this year.

The Biden administration is taking credit for the decrease in crime, citing the president’s focus on gun control, including creating the Office of Gun Violence Prevention last year and sending $15 billion to states and cities in 2022 to invest in public safety improvements.

Gov. Brian Kemp’s office made a case that it also deserves credit for lower crime, pointing to $2.8 billion in new statewide spending on law enforcement and public safety initiatives, as well as legislation allowing the permitless carrying of guns and a measure creating a gang prosecution effort.

Gov. Brian Kemp announced this past week that the state is hiring outside consultants to make recommendations for improvement within the Georgia Department of Corrections. (Arvin Temkar /

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Kemp hires outside consultants to examine problems in prison system

Gov. Brian Kemp announced this past week that consultants will conduct an in-depth assessment over the next year to identify ways to improve the state Department of Corrections.

The consultants with Guidehouse Inc. will visit prisons, conduct interviews with stakeholders, work with GDC personnel and do research before making recommendations to improve the prison system.

Kemp’s announcement comes amid record violence within the prison system. That includes a series of killings, the most recent being the shooting of a kitchen worker by a prisoner at Smith State Prison.

The state is also still awaiting a report on a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into violence at the state’s prisons, and a state Senate panel is also conducting a review of the system.

An investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year exposed widespread corruption in the prison system, including how hundreds of Department of Corrections employees had smuggled in drugs and other forms of contraband. The stories also detailed extreme understaffing, extensive illicit drug use by inmates, record numbers of homicides and suicides, and large criminal enterprises run by prisoners that killed and victimized people on the outside.

The governor did not say how much the state is paying to Guidehouse Inc., a partnership between the Moss Group and GCL Cos., both firms that have specialized in correctional facility planning and operations.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, filed an ethics complaint against Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who in 2021 did not file an annual disclosure of her finances as required by state law. This past week, Willis agreed to pay a $500 penalty and a $125 late fee. (Arvin Temkar /

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Greene gets a win over Willis

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene scored a small victory this past week over Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis — $625 worth.

Greene, a Rome Republican and one of former President Donald Trump’s biggest supporters, filed an ethics complaint earlier this year against Willis, who is prosecuting the former president on election interference charges.

State law requires candidates and elected officials to file annual disclosures about their finances, which Willis neglected to do in 2021.

The state ethics commission this past week accepted a consent order from Willis in which she agreed to pay a $500 penalty and a $125 late fee.

Willis said she has hired a consultant to help her keep her filings up to date.

Gov. Brian Kemp announced this past week that the state is hiring outside consultants to make recommendations for improvement within the Georgia Department of Corrections. (Arvin Temkar /

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Civil rights groups back plan sparing spouses of U.S. citizens from deportation

Georgia civil rights groups have joined together to back a Biden administration plan to protect the spouses of U.S. citizens who are in the country illegally from being deported.

The “parole in place” program, which President Joe Biden would establish by executive order, would also make it easier for some of the estimated 500,000 spouses to get green cards.

“These protections would allow those already bolstering the U.S. economy to continue to do so permanently and without fear of deportation,” states a letter signed by, the Latin American Association and other groups.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who has faced pressure from Georgia U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff over delivery problems involving a new U.S. Postal Service processing facility in Palmetto, reported in a letter this past week to the senator that between June 1 and June 7 on-time delivery of mail in metro Atlanta improved to 80%. Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

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Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

Tensions continue between Ossoff, postmaster general over mail delivery

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy says the on-time delivery of mail in metro Atlanta improved to 80% between June 1 and June 7 and 91% within a day of expected delivery.

DeJoy made that report in a letter to U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff.

Ossoff has been highly critical of the performance of the U.S. Postal Service’s new Atlanta Regional Processing and Distribution Center in Palmetto. During a hearing in April, the Democratic senator told DeJoy he had weeks to fix delivery problems tied to the center. At that time, on-time delivery for first-class mail in the Atlanta area was 36% (The rate exceeded 90% a year ago).

Earlier this month, Ossoff noted in a letter to DeJoy that on-time delivery was 64% in an update the Postal Service offered in May.

In his letter to Ossoff, DeJoy dished out his own criticism.

“It is unfortunate you could not afford the time to visit these operations to gain a more detailed understanding of the worthwhile initiative my team and I are undertaking to solve for this,” DeJoy wrote.

Ossoff returned fire.

“I’m still hearing from Georgia families and businesses about the difficulty they continue to face sending and receiving their mail,” Ossoff said after receiving DeJoy’s letter. “I will not rest until my constituents are well and fully served by the U.S. Postal Service.”

Brian Jack, right, a former political director in the White House for Donald Trump, won Tuesday's runoff for the GOP nomination in the 3rd Congressional District. He's a heavy favorite to win the seat in November in a west Georgia district that was drawn by the Republican-led General Assembly to ensure a GOP victory. (Arvin Temkar /

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Runoff roundup

Tuesday saw runoffs across Georgia, some finalizing ballots in November while others essentially filled posts because the opposing party did not put up a candidate.

Here are some of the major results:

  • Brian Jack, who was then-President Donald Trump’s political director in the White House, defeated former state Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan to win the GOP nomination in the 3rd Congressional District. Jack in November will face Maura Keller in the west Georgia district drawn by GOP legislators to ensure a Republican victory.
  • A. Wayne Johnson, a former U.S. Department of Education official in the Trump administration, topped Chuck Hand for the Republican nomination in South Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District. Johnson in November will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, who will be seeking his 17th term in Congress.
  • RaShaun Kemp is headed to the state Senate after winning the Democratic runoff in District 38 to fill the seat being vacated by state Sen. Horacena Tate. He defeated former state Rep. Ralph Long III. No Republican ran to represent the Fulton County-based district, which stretches from Sandy Springs to Palmetto.
  • Arlene Beckles will fill the seat of retiring state Rep. Pedro Marin after winning the Democratic nod in House District 96. Beckles defeated Sonia Lopez in the Gwinnett County district, which drew no Republican challenger.