On Thursday, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed an executive order transferring all remaining U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees out of the city jail and declaring that Atlanta will no longer hold anyone for the federal agency.
The Democratic mayor’s move follows a separate executive order from June that blocked the jail from taking in any new ICE detainees amid enforcement of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy on the Southwest border, which split up many immigrant families. Bottoms has vigorously objected to that federal policy.
“Atlanta will no longer be complicit in a policy that intentionally inflicts misery on a vulnerable population without giving any thought to the horrific fallout,” Bottoms told reporters moments before signing her executive order. “As the birthplace of the civil rights movement we are called to be better than this.”
Secretary of State Brian Kemp, Georgia’s Republican nominee for governor, criticized the mayor’s move in a statement he released Thursday afternoon.
“The City of Atlanta should focus on cleaning up corruption and stopping crime — not creating more of it,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee for governor, commended Botttoms’ “efforts to combat the impact of the administration's cruel and inhumane family separation policy. Anyone who stands against keeping families together lacks any kind of moral compass.”
The mayor signed her executive order on the same day the Trump administration moved to withdraw from a 1997 consent decree — nicknamed the “Flores settlement” – that limits the government’s ability to detain immigrant children. The proposed rule change would allow the government to detain immigrant children with their parents for longer than 20 days. Federal officials said they would ensure the children are “treated with dignity, respect and special concern for their particular vulnerability as minors.”
“Today, legal loopholes significantly hinder the department’s ability to appropriately detain and promptly remove family units that have no legal basis to remain in the country,” U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement Thursday. “This rule addresses one of the primary pull factors for illegal immigration and allows the federal government to enforce immigration laws as passed by Congress.”
Immigrant rights advocates blasted the Trump administration’s move.
“It is sickening to see the United States government looking for ways to jail more children for longer,” Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said. “That’s the complete opposite of what we should be doing — and it’s yet another example of the Trump administration’s hostility toward immigrants resulting in a policy incompatible with the most basic human values.”
Meanwhile, communities across the nation are rethinking their relationships with ICE amid the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration. For example, officials in Sacramento County in California voted in June against renewing a multimillion-dollar contract with ICE to hold the federal agency’s detainees in a county jail.
“What it came down to for me is whether it’s morally supportable to continue doing that, even if it came at a fiscal cost,” Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna told Capital Public Radio in June.
That same month, the Springfield, Oregon, City Council voted to end an ICE contract for holding its detainees in a city jail.
“What began as a routine jail contract in 2012, a contract that requires no direct input from the council, has become a lightning rod for our community in 2018,” Springfield Mayor Christine Lundberg said, according to The Register-Guard. “The fear, hatred and just plain craziness at the national level has drowned out any hope of making a pragmatic decision in Springfield.”
In Atlanta, the mayor’s executive order directs city Corrections Chief Patrick Labat to permanently stop accepting ICE detainees and to request that the federal agency transfer its remaining detainees out of the city jail as soon as possible.
There were five ICE detainees in the Atlanta City Detention Center as of Wednesday, down from 205 in June. The number has fallen as ICE has released some, deported others and transported some to its other detention centers in Folkston, Lumpkin and Ocilla.
An ICE spokesman confirmed the five that were remaining in the jail would be moved out by the end of Thursday. He declined to identify them or their native countries or give any details about their immigration records, citing his agency’s privacy policies.
The city, the mayor added, has entered into a partnership with Uber and a pair of Catholic and Lutheran charities, which will provide free rides and meals to immigrant families that have been separated on the Southwest border and reunited in Atlanta.
Atlanta has been paid $78 a day for each ICE detainee it has held in the jail through a contract with the U.S. Marshals Service, collecting $7.5 million through this arrangement for this fiscal year, as of June. That is more than a fifth of the jail’s annual $33 million budget. City officials added the Atlanta jail will continue to hold detainees for other federal agencies.
The Bottoms administration, meanwhile, is exploring selling the city’s jail, citing its declining number of inmates and increasing maintenance costs. As of Wednesday, the jail was holding 121 detainees, including the five from ICE. The mayor has already directed City Hall to identify new positions for the jail’s staff.
An imposing gray building with red trim, the jail sits across from several parking lots, bail bonds companies and DUI schools.
“We will have to work with interested stakeholders and see what the future is for our jail,” Bottoms said, adding, “What I anticipate is that whomever we sell the jail to – if it is another partner who will continue to operate it as a jail – many of our employees will transfer with that new entity.”