By Diane Burkley Alejandro:
After this year’s elections, Fairfax County may finally have a board of supervisors ready to stop voluntary cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which has made our region a national leader in deportations.
This would benefit not only immigrant families, but our community as a whole, as crime is statistically significantly lower in jurisdictions with strong non-cooperation policies.
Currently, over 12,000 Fairfax County residents are in deportation proceedings, three times higher than in more populous Philadelphia or Manhattan. Because 85% of immigrant families are of mixed status, the impact on our families and whole community is profound.
Despite the efforts of pro-immigrant groups over the past two years, the county Board Supervisors (BOS) has not taken action to curb voluntary cooperation with ICE. But now, Democratic candidates for supervisor – including all four candidates for chair – overwhelmingly appear to understand that the failure of the BOS to act is a key contributor to deportation of Fairfax residents. They are promising to stop using Fairfax resources to tear immigrants away from their families.
ACLU People Power Fairfax provided all BOS candidates involved in contested primary races the opportunity to sign a commitment to end Fairfax’s voluntary cooperation with ICE. Fairfax for All, a coalition of organizations also working on this issue, provided a similar pledge for candidates. All candidates contacted are Democrats, as Republicans are not choosing supervisor candidates through primaries. The primary election is June 11.
While there are differences in the two documents, both seek agreement to ending Fairfax’s voluntary cooperation with ICE. Remarkably, 19 of the 20 candidates queried signed one or both of these documents.
ACLU People Power Fairfax also submitted questionnaires to the candidates on a variety of immigration topics. We sent a similar questionnaire, targeted to issues of particular concern to immigrant students and their families, to all Fairfax County School Board candidates. Their answers are presented in our 2019 Fairfax Voter Guides on Immigration
The rationale underlying non-cooperation is simple: Fairfax will treat ICE as a “law enforcement” partner when ICE is engaged in criminal enforcement activities. Most ICE enforcement, however, is civil and not subject to the due process protections that attach to criminal charges. It is based on documentation that is frequently in error, and not independently reviewed. Fairfax cannot interfere with ICE civil enforcement, but under the Constitution it is not required to assist ICE either.
Currently, Fairfax County Police Department rules do not prohibit voluntary information sharing that aids ICE civil enforcement. And while Sheriff Stacey Kincaid no longer holds immigrants past their release date without a criminal judicial warrant, her jail still gives ICE advance notice of the inmates’ time and date of release and allows ICE to pick them up inside the jail. Data obtained from the Sheriff shows that over 80% of undocumented immigrants are still transferred after release from county jail to ICE for deportation.
The key promise made by the 19 candidates is to seek enactment of a binding policy as early as possible next year that would
● Require ICE to present a judicial warrant before detaining an individual or taking police action against them.
● Prohibit information sharing with ICE except where expressly required by state or federal law.
● Expand the types of permitted documents that may be used for identification during police stops, to avoid arrests premised on failure to self-identify.
Of course, the general election remains ahead, and fear-mongering can be expected. But the experience of other localities which have ended voluntary cooperation provides strong support for Fairfax County taking this step. Simply put, non-cooperation improves public safety. Crime falls in jurisdictions with strong non-cooperation policies because many immigrants currently fear any interaction with police, which undermines community policing.
The candidates who have committed to non-cooperation with ICE must be held to their promises. But we applaud the progress evident in the fact that they are willing to make them, in large part because immigrant communities and allies are raising the issue and educating them about the problems. In light of the inhumane onslaught on immigrants by President Trump and ICE, change cannot come soon enough.
Diane Burkley Alejandro (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.
Graphic: Results of ACLU People Power and Fairfax for All questionnaires to board of supervisor candidates