Sanctuary Extremism of Athens, Ga., Mayor Exposed

Press Releases

March 20, 2024

IRLI obtains emails that show priorities of mayor, sheriff after Laken Riley’s murder

WASHINGTON—The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) has acquired email correspondence between Athens-Clarke County, Georgia’s mayor and sheriff in the aftermath of Laken Riley’s murder that show their private thinking on the county’s controversial sanctuary policies.  

Through a Georgia Open Records Act request, IRLI obtained a February 24 email exchange between Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz and Sheriff John Q. Williams.

The correspondence started when Sheriff Williams asked Girtz whether the county he is responsible for protecting is a “sanctuary” jurisdiction. The sheriff then threatened that if the Athens-Clarke County Government would not address the county’s refusal to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), he “will do everything in [his] power to protect the integrity and professionalism of the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office and [himself].”

Girtz noted that Williams’ predecessor refused to honor ICE detainers and praises non-cooperation policies saying, “I support the detainer policy as one that is both humane and following the well-documented propensity of immigrants in the U.S. to be less criminally inclined than the native-born population.”

Mayor Girtz says that his “takeaway” from Laken Riley’s murder is, “in the immediate wake of a tragedy to focus on the victim…avoid political messaging…focus on comfort and unity.”

At a press conference on February 28, Girtz dismissed suggestions from the public and media that his county’s refusal to cooperate with ICE may have been a contributing factor. He also insisted that Athens-Clarke County is not a sanctuary jurisdiction stating, “The term ‘sanctuary city’ doesn’t have a sole legal or procedural definition. That term means different things to different people, depending on the context of the discussion.”

“This exchange pulls back the curtain on how sanctuary jurisdictions operate, and there is so much wrong here,” said Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of IRLI. “The sheriff doesn’t know if he is in a sanctuary county or not. The mayor treats an innocent girl’s murder as a public relations problem. He seems more concerned for criminal aliens in his town than legal residents. The misplaced priorities here are appalling, and it’s typical of so many sanctuary communities today.”

According to Matt O’Brien, IRLI’s director of investigations, “The true tragedy of this crime is that it was one hundred percent preventable. If Jose Antonio Ibarra had been stopped at the border – like he should have been – he would never have been able to prey upon a U.S. citizen.”

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