City DopeMay 2024 ElectionNews

Athens Candidates Debate Immigration and Abortion Policies

From left: Deborah Gonzalez, Kalki Yalamanchili, Tommy Dorsey and John Q. Williams. Credit: Blake Aued

Although Athens nursing student Laken Riley’s alleged killer was never booked into the Clarke County Jail until his arrest on murder charges in February, immigration-related policies at the Clarke County Sheriff’s office have come under scrutiny due to Jose Ibarra’s immigration status.

In 2018 Sheriff John Q. Williams’ predecessor, Ira Edwards, stopped holding inmates for Immigration and Customs Enforcement pickup past their release date. Williams continued that policy because a judge’s order that a person be released supersedes any request from ICE, he said at an Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement candidate forum Apr. 17. “If a judge says a person has to be let go, that’s an order,” he said.

Williams’ challenger, Tommy Dorsey, said he would honor ICE requests to hold inmates. “That’s a 287(g) law,” Dorsey said. “You’re required to contact ICE.”

As Williams pointed out, 287(g) is not a law, but a voluntary federal program that trains local police and sheriff’s deputies to enforce federal immigration law. “287(g) is a program that requires you to devote officers to helping ICE,” he said. “That’s not part of the reporting process.”

Williams said he follows the law regarding contacting ICE when an undocumented person is booked into jail. He also said he would follow a state law requiring local law enforcement to arrest and detain undocumented immigrants if the bill is signed by Gov. Brian Kemp. “I’m a constitutional officer,” he said. “[If] the law says I have to do that, I have to follow the law.”

Williams faces Dorsey in the May 21 Democratic primary. The district attorney’s race won’t be on the ballot until November because Kalki Yalamanchili is running as an independent against Democratic incumbent Deborah Gonzalez, but the two candidates also participated in the AADM forum.

Yalamanchili criticized Gonzalez for releasing a statement when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade that she would not prosecute anyone who violated Georgia’s six-week abortion ban. Gonzalez said she made the statement “so women knew they were safe with me.”

Yalamanchili said Gonzalez’s announcement was an invitation for state officials to come in and prosecute such cases. But “it is very difficult… for me to envision a case that is prosecutable” because it would be nearly impossible to find witnesses or convince a jury, he said.

During a forum for commission candidates, Rashe Malcolm addressed rumors that she is selling property she owns at Triangle Plaza in East Athens for student housing. Malcolm said that she did not sell the property, but transferred ownership of her restaurant Rashe’s Cuisine to a corporation for liability purposes. In 2023, Malcolm’s nonprofit Farm to Neighborhood received a nearly $1 million grant from Gov. Brian Kemp’s office for the East Athens Wellness Project, which will involve redeveloping the parking lot in front of the strip mall that houses her restaurant into a commercial kitchen, community garden and greenspace for recreation and gatherings. Malcolm said that the project has not started yet because the grant only reimburses her expenses, so she has to come up with the money up front.