Athens mayor defends dedication to ‘undocumented neighbors’ of ‘Latinx heritage’ after Laken Riley’s murder while residents scream over him to resign

The mayor signed a resolution in 2019 in support of "immigrant and undocumented neighbors, especially those of Latinx heritage," vowing that the city would protect them from ICE.

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz held a press conference on Wednesday morning regarding the killing of Augusta University nursing student Laken Riley and the arrest of illegal immigrant Jose Ibarra as a suspect in connection with the death, and was met with protestors calling for his resignation.

During the press conference, Girtz spoke on getting inquiries about the sanctuary city status of Athens-Clarke County.

"The term sanctuary city doesn't have a sole legal or procedural definition. You can look in Georgia statute and you can find a clear definition for a unified government. You can look in contractual language and you can find out exactly what it means to be an SEC institution. Sanctuary city doesn't track with either of those. And so that term means different things to different people depending on the context of the discussion," Girtz said.

As he tried to continue, yells of "liar" broke out from the group gathered in the press conference room.

"You’re a liar. You are guilty and got blood on your hands for this murder sir," one man yelled out. 

Girtz continued, "many of the aspects that are ascribed to sanctuary cities, are things that are disallowed by Georgia law. And we contribute a document every year to the Georgia Department of Audits indicating that we do not correspond to these definitions under state law."

"Yes you do," a man yelled. 

"And no policies have been adopted by the mayor and commission that have created sanctuary city status in Athens," Girtz added.

Shouts of "resign" broke out from the crowd.

Girtz said that he "cautioned against conflating immigration and crime," adding that "the data demonstrates that the two are not connected," later urging the White House and lawmakers to take action on addressing the border crisis.

One of the protestors held a sign referencing a resolution signed by Girtz in 2019, which states that the local government "is welcoming to people from all lands and backgrounds and strives to foster a community where individuals and families of all statuses feel safe, are able to prosper and can breathe free," according to 11 Alive.

The resolution added that white nationalists and xenophobes "have been emboldened by some politicians and members of the media."

The mayor signed the resolution in support of "immigrant and undocumented neighbors, especially those of Latinx heritage," and vowing that the city would protect them from ICE.

As Girtz began to respond to a reporter’s question on the subject, a man shouted from the crowd, "we don’t want to hear from you no more. You’re not defending us, you’re not upholding your oath of office, sir. You are lawless, you are a criminal."

Girtz attempted to get nonmembers of the press out of the room, to which the man responded, "yeah, I’m a press member too, we the people. We created this government and we pay your salary. You do what we want you to do, not what you want to do."

"I want to say that we center our work here in Athens Clarke County in people's humanity. And part of everybody's humanity is the expectation of human dignity. While 2019 was not that long ago, you might remember the dynamic we were living in in the late teens in this country, where you had President of the United States you can have the most vile terms about people who were foreign born. And you had that notion metastasizing in places like Charlottesville," Gertrz said, which was met with shouts and laughs from the protestors.

Girtz later added, "I was a career educator, I've worked with a lot of students and their families in this community—the practical reality is those families tend to be blended amongst a variety of immigration statuses. We want to create a stable environment for people in our communities—when that community is disrupted by hate or vitriol, that's not a safe environment for the schoolchildren or their families to live in. That resolution speaks to that question."

As Girtz said this, a man shouted that it was "not vitriol, it's righteous indignation."

Ibarra has been charged with the felonies of malice murder, murder, kidnapping, false imprisonment, aggravated assault, aggravated battery and concealing the death of another, as well as the misdemeanor of physically hindering a 911 call.

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