Government leaders and representatives of nonprofit organizations are reaching out to calm fears following the Trump Administration’s hard-line approach to immigrants and travelers, which is encouraging a rising tide of hate crimes.
Panelists at March 11 forum hosted by the Fairfax County NAACP at the Kings Park Library spoke about how children are afraid to go to school and parents are worried they could be picked up at any time by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
During the Obama Administration, ICE focused on individuals convicted of crimes; now ICE agents are detaining anyone they find who happens to be undocumented.
The moderator, Larry Bussey, legal redress chair for the local NAACP chapter, asked Fairfax County Board Chair Sharon Bulova whether the county is a “sanctuary city,” noting that there has been conflicting information on that.
Bulova said the Board of Supervisors is working on a resolution stating that “we are a welcoming county that values diversity.”
“There is no legal definition of sanctuary city,” Bulova said. “It means different things to different people.” President Trump has issued an executive order threatening to defund sanctuary cities.
“Fairfax County cooperates with the federal government when there are criminal activities. What we will never do is turn our police officers into ICE agents,” Bulova said. “It is essential for people to trust the police and not be afraid to report something or ask for help.”
That trust is important, said Deputy Police Chief Tom Ryan. Child car seat check events usually draw large crowds but a recent one in Herndon was sparsely attended because people thought it was an ICE trap, he said.
The Fairfax County Police Department does cooperate with ICE and other law enforcement agencies, Ryan said, but “we do not participate in general immigration enforcement. We do not go on raids or sweeps,” and police officers never ask about a person’s immigration status and “never take someone into custody based on their immigration status.”
“There is true fear in our community,” said Sindy Benavides, national director of civic engagement and community mobilization at the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
“Before you left your house, did you have luggage ready? When you got into your car, were you fearful of being stopped and never see your children again. Were you fearful to give your address?” Those are the kinds of questions immigrant parents face every day, Benavides said.
The recent ICE raids outside a homeless shelter created a climate of panic and fear, she said. “Some children are still not going to school, and parents are fearful of being stopped on the way to school.”
LULAC has been hosting know-your-rights sessions for families to they will be prepared if ICE agents come to their house or raid a store while they are shopping. People should know they have the right to remain silent and ask for a lawyer even if they don’t have legal status, Benavides said.
They also need to ensure someone has power of attorney, so that person can take care of their children and personal assets if they are detained or deported.
If people see an ICE incident, they need to pay attention and record it, Benavides said. During a recent ICE raid in Annandale, the description of what ICE said happened is different from what witnesses reported. ICE was looking for particular people, but detained others who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
According to Bulova, Gov. Terry McAuliffe told ICE not to come to places where people are seeking help, like hypothermia shelters, schools, and churches.
“ICE has the authority to do that,” Ryan said. “They operate on their own. We have no control over that.”
Safety at school
Bussey pushed panelist Karen Corbett Sanders, a member of the Fairfax County School Board (Mount Vernon) on why the school system didn’t send a memo to all parents saying their children are safe in school.
Some principals did issue such statements. Sanders indicated she would ask the superintendent to do that, too.
“We felt like that’s the statement we make repeatedly every day,” Sanders said. Fairfax County Public Schools has a strong antidiscrimination and antibullying policy, and the schools have parent liaisons who speak students’ languages and school resource officers who develop mentoring relationships with students.
FCPS’ Immigrant Family Reunification program provides training and support for staff so they can help immigrant families. “We’re very committed to making sure we have the resources to assist these families,” Sanders said. “It’s in our best interest to educate every child.”
“When parents register children for school, we do not ask about their immigration status,” said Robin Stern Hamby, family engagement specialist with FCPS.
Many newcomers are not acculturating as quickly as immigrant students in the past, Hamby said. Many of these children – from Central America, West Africa, and the Middle East – have not been with their parents for a long time. More than 2,000 unaccompanied minors have enrolled in FCPS schools in the past few years.
“Children are scared; we are hearing that a lot,” Hamby said. “We are trying to help them feel safe and protected.” Parent liaisons are helping them adjust and reconnect with their families. Her office has published activity books in several languages to help children understand why their parents had to leave them behind.
Del. Scott Surovell said several of the bills in the General Assembly that he supported – including measures to add hate crimes to the state’s antidiscrimination law and to allow residents to apply for driver’s licenses regardless of their immigration status – were killed in committee.
Several anti-immigrant bills that were passed, such as a measure to allow the police to hold people picked up by ICE for an indefinite period, are likely to be vetoed by the governor.
Noting that some jurisdictions hold people for 72 hours in jail at the request of ICE, Steve Levinson, president of the board of the American Civil Liberties Union, said it is unconstitutional to keep people in jail after they have finished serving their sentence, unless there is a warrant.
“I share your concern. I would be extremely concerned if someone who completed their sentence was held without a warrant,” Bulova said. That is something the county doesn’t have control over, however, she said; it’s a policy set by Sheriff Stacey Kincaid, an elected official who does not report to the Board of Supervisors.
Kincaid, who was not at the forum, assured the group in a text to Surovell that Fairfax County does not hold people beyond their sentence without a warrant.
While there has been an increase in hate crimes, there have always incidents like the recent desecration of graves in Jewish cemeteries, Levinson said. What is new is “there is no fear of retribution. People are openly saying things that in the past would have been condemned instantly.”
“Are we going to be governed by fear or are we going to be governed by American values?” said Rizwan Jaka, chairman of the board of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center.
Trump’s revised travel ban, which Jaka referred as the “Muslim ban 2.0,” has a “chilling effect,” he said. “We want to stop terrorism and violent extremism,” but this needs to be put into perspective. Many more people were killed by right-wing extremists than Muslim terrorists in the United States, and nearly 10,000 people are killed each year by drunk drivers.
The climate of “fear mongering and paranoia” has led to more bullying, threats, and assaults against American Muslims in schools, Jaka said. There’s been a 67 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslims, but there has also been a rise in hate crimes against blacks, Jews, Hindus, and Sikhs.
“We have to figure out how to counter this,” he said, noting there is cause for hope, citing efforts like the interfaith Shoulder to Shoulder campaign dedicated to ending anti-Muslim sentiment.
“We must engage fully with the government,” Jaka said. “At the same time, we must advocate for our rights and we must have compassion.”