Gubernatorial candidate's deportation campaign bus drawing fire
By Jill Nolin
CNHI State Reporter
DECATUR, GA – Gubernatorial candidate Michael Williams says he didn't want to go the traditional route for his campaign bus tour.
So he dispatched what he is calling his "deportation bus" and kicked off his campaign swing in three cities that he labeled as sanctuary cities, although there are no official sanctuary cities in Georgia.
Williams started in Clarkston and Decatur, but a planned stop in Athens had to be canceled after protestors blocked the bus from leaving a Kroger parking lot near Decatur, according to a campaign spokesman.
The side of the bus reads: "Fill this bus with illegals. Vote Michael Williams." And on the back: "Danger! Murderers, rapists, kidnappers, child molesters, and other criminals on board. Stay back 1,000 feet."
And then: "Follow me to Mexico."
Atlanta resident Marquese Averett said he came out to protest on Wednesday because he was insulted by the campaign's message.
"We can plainly see that racism and bigotry is alive and well in Trump's America," Averett said. "And I'm here to stand with my immigrant brothers and sisters and send a strong message that hate has no place in Decatur, Georgia."
On a rainy stop near Decatur, Williams met with members of the media on an RV as protestors chanted phrases such as, "No hate. No fear. Immigrants are welcomed here."
The atmosphere outside a Burger King where the Williams campaign said they would be was often tense, with several heated exchanges between protestors and Williams supporters.
"I cannot control how they perceive the message," Williams said in an interview. "All I can control is the message that we're putting out there. If you take what is written on that bus – and don't add any commentary to it; just take it for what it is – there's nothing hateful about it."
Williams has been lagging in the polls. He drew 3 percent of support in a new 11Alive News poll, conducted by SurveyUSA, that was released Tuesday. That puts him in last place in the race to replace a term-limited Gov. Nathan Deal. About 27 percent of likely Republican voters said they remained undecided.
The Cumming candidate said he wanted to bring attention to his plan to require all 159 counties in Georgia to become part of the 287(g) program, which is an initiative of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that delegates authority for immigration enforcement to local law enforcement.
Only seven agencies in Georgia currently participate in the program, according to ICE.
Williams said the program would only target people who are here illegally and who commit another crime.
"We need to find those people, put them on a bus and send them home," he said.
Sandy Springs resident Dolly Gil, who said she legally immigrated to America from Peru four decades ago, came out Wednesday to show Williams her support.
"They have to go back and come back legally. No problem," said Gil, referring to those who came illegally. "It takes time. They might have to wait 10 years. That's how it is."
Jill Nolin covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.