Democrat mayor of Athens, Georgia defends sanctuary city policies blamed for Laken Riley murder

by WorldTribune Staff, February 28, 2024

As angry residents called on him to resign and said he had blood on his hands for the brutal murder of Laken Riley by an illegal immigrant, Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz on Wednesday defended his policy in support of “immigrant and undocumented neighbors, especially those of Latinx heritage,” and vowing that the city would protect them from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The mayor has previously asserted in the days following the killing of Riley that Athens is not a sanctuary city under any statutory definition. Such status is banned under Georgia law.

Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz / X

“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.

“You’re a liar. You are guilty and got blood on your hands for this murder sir,” one man yelled out as the mayor continued with his press conference. Girtz said that “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.

Jose Ibarra, 26, was arrested and faces several charges in connection to Riley’s death, including malice murder, false imprisonment, and concealing the death of another.

According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Ibarra had been previously arrested for “unlawfully entering the United States” near El Paso, Texas in September 2022. He was arrested and released and then sent to New York, where he was arrested once again nearly a year later but was released before a detainer could be issued by ICE.

Former President Donald Trump said in response to the murder of Riley: “Crooked Joe Biden’s Border INVASION is destroying our country and killing our citizens! The horrible murder of 22-year-old Laken Riley at the University of Georgia should have NEVER happened! The monster who took her life illegally entered our Country in 2022…and then was released AGAIN by Radical Democrats in New York after injuring a CHILD!! When I am your President, we will immediately Seal the Border, Stop the Invasion, and on Day One, we will begin the largest deportation operation of illegal CRIMINALS in American History! May God Bless Laken Riley and her family!!! Our prayers are with you!”

A protester at Wednesday’s press conference 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.”

As Girtz began to respond to a reporter’s question, 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 protesters.

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.”

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