by Steve WhiteTuesday, May 30th 2017

Hall County wrestles with President Trump’s immigration plan, as they reject the label of a “sanctuary city.”

In January, Pres. Trump issued an executive order defining “sanctuary jurisdictions” as those that “willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens.”

But that order has since been tied up in court.

“It's still pretty much a state of confusion,” Hall County Attorney Jack Zitterkopf said Tuesday.

He wants to stay the course, especially with the legal uncertainty.

He told the county board, “The status of the law is obviously in a state of flux in terms of what the president can and can't do with executive orders for sanctuary cities or counties.”

The Justice Department appears to be softening its position. A memo from Attorney General Jeff Sessions now says they may deny law enforcement grants – but not all federal funding – to cities that refuse to enforce federal immigration law.

Regardless, local leaders reject the sanctuary label.

Hall County Corrections Director Todd Bahensky said, “The sanctuary city thing, I'm not sure what criteria Hall County makes it so we fall within that category.”

County leaders the unofficial designation is a frustration, given the county works closely with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

County Board Chair Pam Lancaster said, “We do cooperate fully with the federal government. We even hold ICE detainees. So if people are noted by ICE as people that need to be detained, we hold them in our jail.”

The county attorney says they will release prisoners who’ve served their time on local charges.

Zitterkopf said, “We are doing the best that we can without exposing ourselves to massive civil liabilities.”

In other words, they fear lawsuits that could happen if they keep people locked up without the authority to do so.

Lancaster said, “We can't hold people against people against their will unless they have infringed on our local law, or unless we have an order from the federal government to hold them on their behalf. (And we're not getting that order). We are not getting that order right now.”

The county attorney says their policy is to notify immigration about prisoners who are believed to be in the country illegally.

But without a warrant, they will not hold them after their local sentence is served.