The Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission passed a resolution in support of undocumented residents in August but seemed to reverse course just two weeks later.
What did the resolution mean to them? We’ll find out — they still have time to stand with immigrants and tell the Georgia state legislature to allow all residents the ability to apply for driver’s licenses.
After the tragedy of El Paso, the Athens-Clarke County commission passed an official resolution denouncing white supremacy and supporting the undocumented community in Athens. It was a clear and powerful statement that was much appreciated… but which the commission seemed to reverse course on just two weeks later.
At a special called session on August 20th, the commission unanimously passed a formal resolution in support of undocumented Athenians.
Mayor Kelly Girtz: “And whereas, for the Athens community to be whole, it is necessary that families and loved ones remain together, and that all people, including those without documentation, feel welcome and comfortable.”
They directly called out Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, as an organization that threatens and terrorizes Latinx people, and they also recognized the role that it and other government institutions have played in creating and maintaining white supremacy. Dozens of Latinx community members were in attendance to show their appreciation and support. Several immigrants spoke about their experiences and the fear that is growing throughout their community.
Undocumented Athenian 1: “Three weeks ago, they came to my house. My kids cried a lot. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to tell them.” [translated from Spanish by volunteer]
Undocumented Athenian 2: “And I’m a pastor, Christian. I’m worried. Many of our members are missing church, often, because of their fear from driving and that a police officer could stop them, and that they could be deported.” [translated from Spanish by volunteer]
Undocumented Athenian 3: “We live in fear that they could take us out of here. We ask you, please, that you continue working on this and that you give us a license.” [translated from Spanish by volunteer]
Mobility is a huge concern for this community who are prevented from applying for driver’s licenses by the state government. On the plus side, the ACC Police Department has recently stopped arresting people without a driver’s license, as long as they are able to provide some form of identification, for example a passport. This is a positive step forward, but many undocumented residents asked for further action to reduce the threat of deportation from driving without a license. The easiest and best way to do that is to allow all residents to take the test and apply for a driver’s license, as 14 states have already done.
This special called meeting turned into a beautiful event with some perhaps feeling truly included and welcomed to participate in their local government for the first time.
But what does this resolution really mean to commissioners? Is it just words? We’re about to find out.
Once a year, the commission sits down with our representatives in the state government. They bring forward a list of requests that lets the state government know about some of the problems we’re facing here in Athens and suggests some potential legislative solutions. For example, commissioners might request a statewide minimum wage increase, or at least the ability to set our own minimum wage locally, in order to fight Athens’ high poverty rate. Then these two august and deliberative bodies set aside their differences, hash out their disagreements, and get to work for their constituents.
Just kidding they completely ignore us!
Anyway, some commissioners have given up on even asking for anything they think they might not get.
Commissioner Andy Herod: “I think there’s too much on here that they’ve already told us several times that they’re not going to do. And you know, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome.”
On the other side of the commission, you’ve got the progressives, the people who actually want to try to do things.
Commissioner Melissa Link: “Over and over we hear from folks in the community about things we literally have no control over. It’s our state legislators who make these laws. So, I believe we have a duty to our constituents to at least convey those concerns to our state legislators when we’re meeting with them face-to-face.”
They want to pass along the undocumented community’s request that they be allowed to apply for driver’s licenses to our state legislature. After passing such a strongly worded resolution unanimously just two weeks prior, it seems like this would be the least they could do. This simple request should be easy enough to include on their list of asks, right? Well… maybe not.
At the September 3rd voting session, Commissioner Allison Wright refused to allow the list of legislative requests to move forward until four of them were removed. One of the four was the request for driver’s licenses.
Commissioner Allison Wright: “Some of these are due to the limited research on the, what could be unintended consequences on these, some of them I think that they’re not “in our lane” so to speak.”
She said this despite having two weeks to do any necessary research.
Commissioner Wright also removed items asking for an income cap on the HOPE scholarship, raising the pay of school board members and raising wages for UGA workers, something which caught the ire of UGA’s union, the United Campus Workers of Georgia.
Joseph Carter, co-founder of the United Campus Workers of Georgia: “Wages at the university are not outside of the mayor and commission’s lane. The workers at the University of Georgia are her constituents. The union is not happy about this at all. The union is very concerned about how some of our commissioners think that this is not an issue that we need to be bringing to the state legislature. The union has been lobbying since the beginning of this year for cost of living adjustments. We have a Senate Resolution, SR 291, that’s currently active in Senate Appropriations. So, if Commissioner Wright needs more research, she should reach out to the union.”
Commissioner Jerry NeSmith also removed an item.
Commissioner Jerry NeSmith: “I can’t possibly agree to asking for mandatory registration of firearms, whether the majority of you believe in it or not. And perhaps not even if I believe in it, which I don’t. So, that’s got to come off.”
He even rejected a compromise which would have limited it to assault weapons only.
Commissioner Tim Denson: “Does Commissioner NeSmith accept Commissioner Link’s substituted language that she just stated?”
Commissioner Jerry NeSmith: “No.”
Commissioner Tim Denson: “For limiting it to assault weapons?”
Commissioner Jerry NeSmith: “No.”
Commissioner Tim Denson: “You don’t.”
The commission will try to resolve their disagreements on these five items today at a special called session at 4:30pm in city hall.
Lastly, there are some major problems going down at the animal shelter that you should be aware of.
Concerned Resident 1: “I’m here today because of the dire situation at the animal shelter.”
Concerned Resident 2: “Budgeted funds are not being spent even though they are desperately needed, care protocols are either non-existent or not being followed, staff are not properly trained and then they are blamed when things go wrong, and citizens are being kept in the dark.”
Concerned Resident 3: “It’s time to tell the truth, shelter management made a series of mistakes that were compounded by a lack of urgency in addressing staffing and policy issues.”
Concerned Resident 4: “There are few things more depressing and soul-crushing than waking up to go to a job where finding a dead cat or kitten was the norm. You feel like you’re responsible for their deaths and that’s a heavy burden to bear.”
Concerned Resident 5: “I’m a veterinarian and I’m the medical director at Athens-area Humane Society. The misinformation that’s been presented by the county is shameful. The shelter has been quarantined today – we didn’t know that! I called the shelter this morning because I had surgery space in my schedule, and I said, “Hey guys, I’ve got space, do you want to send me anything?” We pull, we get those animals spade and neutered so they get adopted easier. They sent me two dogs. Called me later, “Oh, by the way there’s parvo in the shelter.” I just brought those dogs into my clinic and put them on the floor next to your pets! Okay? That’s not okay! That’s, that’s terrible for me to know. Right? We immediately disinfected, put everything in, you know, emergency mode to make sure we didn’t spread that disease around. But what on earth? You know? How, how am I supposed to trust them? How am I supposed to call up tomorrow and say “Do you guys have space?””
Mayor Kelly Girtz: “Thank you, Ms Martin.”
Concerned Resident 5: “Thank you. I hope that we can fix this.”