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Local News

Student’s killing in Athens over the weekend gives momentum to bill to require Georgia sheriffs to cooperate with ICE


Ross Williams, Georgia Recorder
February 27, 2024

In the wake of the killing of 22-year-old nursing student Laken Riley at the University of Georgia, a state House committee has moved forward on legislation targeting immigrants in state custody.

The suspect in Riley’s death, 26-year-old Jose Ibarra, was in the country illegally, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs, and was previously arrested in New York and cited for shoplifting in Athens, according to police documents.

Savannah Republican Rep. Jesse Petrea’s House Bill 1105 aims to require sheriffs to report when an inmate is a citizen of another country. It passed a House committee Tuesday and is expected to get a full House vote before the end of the month, the deadline for bills to easily pass from one chamber to the other.

Petrea filed his bill late last month, but Riley’s slaying has sparked a renewed urgency for GOP lawmakers to move immigration legislation this year.

 Rep. Jesse Petrea. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

“The statute is clear,” he said. “Today, every sheriff in this state must report to ICE when a foreign national is in their jail. That is current statutory law. The problem is, sheriffs are simply not following that law in many instances. Now, some of them are intentionally not following the law.”

In an open letter to Petrea, former Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway said his home county would benefit from the proposed law.

“Perhaps nowhere in the state is your bill needed more than here in Gwinnett County where the current sheriff has made at least one public announcement that he has no intention of compliance with either OCGA 42-4-14 or OCGA 36-80-23,” Conway wrote. “I am aware of the responses to open records requests that indicate our sheriff has followed through on his policy.”

Shortly after his election, Sheriff Keybo Taylor, a Democrat, announced he would be pulling out of the controversial 287(g) program, but said that did not mean his county would cease all cooperation with ICE.

The 287(g) program allows state and local law enforcement agencies to partner with ICE and detain suspected undocumented immigrants.

Under language added to the bill by Athens Republican Rep. Houston Gaines, eligible state agencies would be required to apply for programs like 287(g). Gaines said fewer than ten agencies in Georgia currently participate.

Georgia Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Terry Norris said he sees the bill as a good thing, but he disagreed that a significant number of sheriffs are willfully not reporting to ICE.

Norris said he sent a survey to all of Georgia’s 159 sheriff’s offices, 142 of which had jails. Of those, 111 responded, 103 said they reported to ICE, and the other eight didn’t have jails.

“I don’t see this being a conscious ‘I’m not going to do it,’” he said. “I’ll just be honest with you, I do not see that. And the other part of that is, we’re going to step up our efforts a little bit to inform these folks, ‘Look, you’ve got to do this.’ We’ve got a pretty robust jail component under the Sheriff’s Association that we do training. There’s also a Georgia Jail Association that some of these people are members of. So we’ve got a good enough forum to push that information out. So I see it as a positive. Whoever didn’t know about it is going to know about it now.”

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Georgia Recorder under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.