The Athens community is responding to a recent policy reversal by the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office, which has seen the Sheriff’s office cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain locals based on their immigrant status since July.
“It is the magnificent terror machine of deportations of this administration,” said Angel Torres, a member of Dignidad Inmigrante en Athens and the Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition. “The Latino community is suffering because they are breaking families.”
The original policy did not enforce ICE’s efforts to detain locals based on their immigrant status. However, in July, the Sheriff’s Office reversed this policy to align itself with changes to the Department of Homeland Security’s policy.
“In light of these changes, and in keeping with our role and responsibility for community safety with respect to the detention of individuals with outstanding warrants, we now recognize ICE detainers that are supported by a warrant for arrest or warrant for removal or deportation,” Captain Hayden Hodges of the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
Due to the change in policy, Torres said Athens is no longer deemed a “sanctuary city,” or a city that limits its cooperation with federal immigration law enforcement.
The new policy states that if an individual is arrested, the individual will be held for no more than 48 hours after they otherwise would have been released. During that time period, ICE officials may come in and take the individual into custody.
“We are not seeking to arrest immigrants based on their lawful status in this country, nor are we participating in any immigration roundups with federal officials,” Hodges said in the statement. “The sheriff is sworn to uphold the laws of this state and is obligated to ensure the public safety of this community.”
Hodges said that the policy does not permit the arrest of an undocumented individual solely based on his or her immigration status.
“The Sheriff’s Office only detains undocumented immigrants who have been arrested on other criminal charges and are wanted by immigration officials,” Hodges said. “This underscores the need for all citizens to act responsibly and commit to obeying the laws of our state and country.”
The Athens-Clarke County Police Department is still not cooperating with ICE, according to Public Information Officer Epifanio Rodriguez.
“We stand by our previous message that we will only assist when a known criminal offender with active criminal warrants are involved,” Rodriguez said in a statement.
ACCPD Chief Scott Freeman spoke out against ICE in May, saying “we are not immigration enforcement.”
“We want anybody, regardless of their legal status, to be able to identify themselves and seek assistance without hesitation, anxiety or fear,” Freeman said at a town hall event.
In the coming weeks, DIA and AIRC will host community forums educating individuals who have immigrated on the new policy and their rights, Torres said.
“DIA will keep the fight for liberation of oppressed,” he said. “We are going to do an event...so the community can understand how they are living everyday with the fear of being arrested.”