Beto Mendoza (left) and Mayor Kelly Girtz.
Athens-Clarke County commissioners denounced white supremacy and committed themselves to reversing the damage done to communities of color in a formal resolution showing support for “immigrants, undocumented residents and the Latinx community” last week. They directly called out Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as an institution that causes fear and threatens immigrant communities. They likewise criticized "some politicians" for emboldening white nationalists and xenophobes with their rhetoric, but didn't name any names.
The resolution comes after the tragedy of the El Paso, TX, shooting, which targeted the Latinx community, and the mass arrests of undocumented people at multiple chicken plants in Mississippi. Commissioner Tim Denson, the lead author of the resolution, remarked on Athens’ similarity with the Mississippi towns and expressed worry that raids could happen here. Commissioner Ovita Thornton agreed, saying, "I have experience with black racism and black cultures being denied. You’re no different from anyone else."
Mayor Kelly Girtz and Dignidad Inmigrante en Athens co-founder Beto Mendoza read the bilingual resolution aloud, alternating between English and Spanish. Dozens of Latinx community members were in attendance to show their support.
After the reading, some spoke to the mayor and commission through a volunteer translator. They expressed their gratitude but also asked for further action to protect the undocumented in Athens, especially in regard to the ability to drive without risking deportation. “Three weeks ago, [ICE] came to my house,” said one undocumented resident. “Many of our members have been missing church often, because of their fear of driving and that they could be arrested and deported,” said a local Latinx pastor.
Denson acknowledged that the resolution “won’t make the threat go away” for undocumented families. However, the ACC Police Department has recently changed its policy regarding the arrest of those driving without a license, something the undocumented community had been requesting for years. (State law forbids people who are in the country illegally from obtaining a driver’s license.) ACCPD will no longer arrest anyone for simply driving a car, unless they are unable to prove their identity. This would allow the undocumented to show a foreign passport or other identification to avoid arrest, a policy similar to one enacted by the Cobb County Police Department. In 2018, the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office stopped honoring ICE’s requests to hold undocumented inmates longer than required by federal law, but dozens of Athens residents have been deported in recent years, during both the Trump and Obama administrations, because the local government is unable to stop ICE from conducting raids.