By Diane Burkley Alejandro:
Under the Trump Administration, detention for suspected immigration violations has increased dramatically – not just nationally but right here in Fairfax County.
Most deportations are due to Fairfax County law enforcement’s initial detention of these individuals on local charges, mostly for minor offenses. Fortunately, local law enforcement can limit the damage to immigrants by ending its voluntary cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). As concerned citizens, we should urge them to do just that.
The numbers are shocking: In 2017, law enforcement in Fairfax County turned over 779 immigrants to ICE – almost three times the number in 2016 (271). This year the trend continues – through April, the number of handovers rose by 175% over the same period in 2017.
The crisis was set it in motion by the president. Rather than just target serious criminals for deportation like President Barack Obama, ICE now seeks to remove all undocumented immigrants regardless of their criminal history or ties to this country. Not surprising for a “leader” like Donald Trump who recently called immigrants “animals” and has ordered the separation of immigrant children from their parents.
The federal government does not — and under the Constitution cannot — force Fairfax to participate in ICE civil enforcement. True, Fairfax County Police are legally required to enter names of all suspects into a national FBI database, which ICE can access. Similarly, the Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail, is required to report the names of non-citizens booked into jail. This information could help ICE track down immigrants, but ICE data shows that it later captures only about 5% of these people unless local law enforcement does more to help its efforts.
Fairfax County does in fact go much further than what is required. Our police often arrest undocumented immigrants for misdemeanor charges, instead of simply issuing summonses, as they normally do for citizens. Once arrested and booked into the jail by the sheriff, they become stuck in the ICE pipeline that leads to deportation, with little chance to return to their families and normal lives.This is because the Sheriff’s Office turns over to ICE every immigrant it asks for — even when that person has been found innocent of the local crime that caused them to be arrested, had their case dismissed or was granted bail.
Sheriff Stacey Kincaid recently made the brave decision to stop housing ICE’s direct arrests and also will not detain a person at ICE’s request past their release date without a a criminal judicial warrant.
But she expressly affirmed her intention to continue to turn immigrants over to ICE at the time of release. Indeed, the new policy makes sure that ICE can be successful by requiring that ICE be given direct advance notice of the date and time immigrants are going to be released. The new policy also allows staff to give immigrants’ addresses and other information to ICE so it can track down family members.
These practices by Fairfax law enforcement directly lead to the deportation of undocumented immigrants and the improper years-long detention of many immigrants who have their papers or are citizens. An ACLU lawsuit filed last year claims that ICE targets the wrong person about 30% of the time.
We can make our voices heard on this critical issue. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has the authority to change the police and sheriff’s policies by tying them to acceptance of Fairfax County funds. We should urge them to do so.
The Fairfax County Democratic Committee State and Local Affairs Committee (SLAC) is hosting a forum to discuss this problem, and its solutions, at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 6, at FCDC Headquarters. Law enforcement will be the primary focus, but problems in the schools and social services will be addressed, too. Panel members are from the Fairfax for All coalition, a diverse group advocating for Fairfax County to completely end its voluntary collaboration with ICE.
Diane Burkley Alejandro is the lead advocate for ACLU People Power Fairfax, a grassroots effort to stop all voluntary cooperation by Fairfax law enforcement with ICE. She is an attorney with over 20 years’ experience negotiating changes to local and federal public policy, and a former senior political appointee in the U.S. Department of Labor,whose portfolio included immigration. She will be a member of the panel at the immigration forum on Wednesday, June 6.