July 4, 2019
Group urges Athens commission to halt arrests of undocumented motorists
Police shouldn’t arrest undocumented residents simply for not having a driver’s license, immigration rights activists recently told Athens-Clarke County officials.
A series of speakers waited through most of a three-hour meeting of the Athens-Clarke County Commission for a chance to urge commissioners to change police policy on the matter during a public comment period in which anyone is allowed to address commissioners and Mayor Kelly Girtz.
“That happens weekly in Athens,” said JoBeth Allen, speaking for a committee of Oconee Street United Methodist Church that works with undocumented immigrants.
But after Allen and several others asked the mayor and commission to change policy, Girtz said the practice, if not explicit policy, of Athens-Clarke police was not to arrest people only for driving without a license if they could produce another form of identification such as a passport and could get alternate transportation after being stopped by police.
“If we need to be more explicit and have some formal protocol that comes before the public, I think we are willing to do that,” said Girtz.
All it would take is to add one small phrase to the Athens-Clarke police policy book, as Cobb County and several other Georgia counties have done, Allen said.
That phrase would make it clear that police should arrest someone for not having a driver’s license “only when positive identification cannot be verified,” Allen explained.
Representatives of Dignidad Immigrante en Athens, an immigrant rights advocacy group, and Athens for Everyone, which promotes a progressive political agenda, also spoke in favor of the policy change.
Lack of transportation is one of the top obstacles for low-income people in Athens, and the main reason cited when Hispanic people have to cancel medical appointments, one said.
Unlike some states, Georgia does not allow undocumented people to get a driver’s license, and is unlikely to change that stance in the future, another speaker said. HERE