A “deportation bus” is coming to Gainesville, care of state Sen. Michael Williams.
The Republican candidate for governor dropped a bomb in the middle of the growing debate about illegal immigration in the Republican primary. While other candidates are coming out with commercials or making position statements, Williams will be driving a bus covered with anti-illegal-immigrant rhetoric around the state — beginning at his campaign office at 2365 Monroe Drive in Gainesville at noon Wednesday, May 16.
The bus will drive through Gainesville, Clarkston, Decatur and Athens — all of which the Williams campaign has deemed “sanctuary cities,” or those offering illegal immigrants protection from federal immigration enforcement.
The back of the bus warns other drivers to stay back because “murderers, rapists, kidnappers, child molest(e)rs and other criminals” are on board. It’s also emblazoned with the words, “Follow me to Mexico.”
Tuesday’s announcement from the Williams campaign also notes that “(Casey) Cagle's own hometown of Gainesville has developed a reputation for turning a blind eye to criminal illegal aliens.”
Williams spoke briefly with The Times on Tuesday about his claim. Asked what proof he had that Gainesville is developing a reputation as a city ignoring illegal immigration, Williams said, laughing, “Have you been to Gainesville?”
Williams said Cagle isn’t doing anything about illegal immigration “in his own backyard,” but at the same time acknowledged that Hall County is one of only a handful in the state participating in the 287(g) program managed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Williams’ statements about Gainesville and Hall County angered local Republican officials and forced a Latino group to break ties with the Williams campaign and condemn the campaign ad that came out on Tuesday.
Matt Smith, chairman of the Hall County Republican Party, called the video “irresponsible” and disrespectful of local law enforcement.
“I support our police officers. I think we have great community servants and that they keep us safe,” Smith told The Times on Tuesday. “I think it’s just kind of a slap in the face to call Gainesville a near-sanctuary city without any kind of support for that. I think it’s dangerous — I think it’s just a crazy statement.”
For its part, the Cagle camp provided a terse statement about Williams’ bus tour.
“He’s making a convincing case that the first person rounded up on his deportation bus should be him,” said Scott Binkley, Cagle’s campaign manager.
Meanwhile, Williams has officially lost the support of Art Gallegos and the Gainesville-based Latinos Conservative Organization. Gallegos worked early in Williams’ campaign to connect the candidate with Spanish-language radio stations and other groups.
He told The Times that he felt as if he’d been sucker-punched when he saw the campaign video on Tuesday.
“We have decided to break ties with Michael Williams,” Gallegos said, noting that he believed Williams was a good man but that, by spending campaign funds and time to decorate a bus with anti-Mexican language, he had gone out of his way to be offensive.
Gallegos said he believes in legal immigration and opposes illegal immigration and sanctuary cities, but Williams’ video and bus were “uncalled for.”
“Our city is better than that,” Gallegos said of Williams’ comments about Gainesville.
Immigration detainers in Hall County almost tripled in the first three months of 2017 compared to 2016, according to a report from the Migration Policy Institute.
The Gainesville Police Department referred all comment to Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan.
“While most everyone understands the political reasons why Mr. Williams attacked the city of Gainesville in his recent press release, the true reputation for Gainesville is a city that works closely with state and federal agencies to uphold the laws of this land, including the 287(g) program,” Dunagan said in a statement to The Times. “This community has worked hard to create an environment and quality of life where all are welcomed to call Gainesville home, raise their families, run their businesses and have the confidence to invest in their future.”