While Fairfax County officials insist that the police department is not involved in federal actions to round up undocumented immigrants, advocates for immigrants’ rights are urging the county to totally stop cooperating with U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) agents.
Representatives of immigrant groups and Fairfax County officials clashed on that issue at a panel discussion on immigration policy June 3 at Luther Jackson Middle School. The event, conducted mostly in Spanish with English translators, was moderated by journalists from Telemundo Washington D.C.
A key point of contention is whether officers in the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office can refuse to provide ICE with ID data.
“We do not enforce federal immigration law,” said 2nd Lt. Alma Smith. But if someone is arrested, the Sheriff’s Office puts the person’s ID into a state database, which includes immigration status. The Sheriff’s Office has had an agreement in place for the past 20 years or so calling for the department to share information with ICE, Smith said.
But that agreement was just renewed this year, and it’s up to the Sheriff whether to renew it or not, pointed out Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, director of the immigrant advocacy legal program at the Legal Aid Justice Center.
“It’s incredibly difficult for us to understand how the county renewed the contract with ICE” after President Trump “removed the shackles from ICE,” said a member of the audience. “ICE is demonizing all immigrants,” and anyone is now is at risk of being deported.
He asked Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova: “Are you willing to cancel that contract and stop all contact with ICE?”
The BoS “is not a party to that contract,” Bulova responded. It is an agreement with the Sheriff, an elected official, who is not under the authority of the BoS. The supervisors, however, do provide funding for the jail, she conceded. The sheriff, Stacey Kincaid, was not at the panel discussion.
The county does have the power to rescind that agreement, another audience member insisted, but Bulova disagreed. When pressed whether she would ask the state attorney general about the matter, Bulova said, “I would be happy to ask if the policies we’re adhering to are constitutional.”
The diversity in Fairfax County “is one of our greatest strengths,” said Bulova. “The county tries very hard to make our diverse population feel comfortable and make them feel welcome and help them contribute toward of well-being of our community.”
“We are not ICE,” Bulova said. It’s important to make that distinction because “our job is to make our community safe,” and victims of crime won’t be comfortable going to the police if they fear they will be deported.
The arrest last month of Liliana Cruz Mendez, an undocumented mother from El Salvador, was a flashpoint for immigration rights advocates. The longtime Falls Church resident was detained by ICE because she had a previous misdemeanor conviction for driving without a license.
Cruz Mendez is being held at an ICE facility in Williamsburg, Va., said Nicholas Katz, senior manager of legal services at CASA, an immigration rights organization. Her children are with their father.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe pardoned Cruz Mendez for the traffic offense, but that won’t stop her from being deported. ICE denied a stay of deportation, which prompted CASA to organize a protest rally in front of the White House June 1.
While CASA Executive Director Gustavo Torres agreed that the Fairfax County police officers are not ICE agents and urged immigrants to cooperate with them, he noted, “We are under an administration that hates immigrants.”
FCPD Chief Col. Edwin Roessler Jr. called the Cruz Mendez case an ICE matter. FCPD issued a traffic summons, and ICE picked her up for deportation, he noted. After her arrest, “she was free and clear to leave.”
“There is a connection,” Katz countered. When an officer runs a check on a person at a traffic stop, “there is a choice” whether the police notifies ICE or not. “It is disturbing that ICE was on the scene at a traffic stop.”
That issue highlights the need for Fairfax County to become a sanctuary county and for Virginia to allow undocumented immigrants to get drivers’ licenses, Torres said.
“We are not immigration agents. We will not deport you,” said Roessler. “We do not conduct raids with ICE.” FCPD does cooperate with ICE, however, when there is suspected criminal activity.
If a person commits a crime, or is stopped for a traffic violation, officers ask for a driver’s license because police need to identify them, he said. If someone fails to produce a valid driver’s license, “the officer can make an arrest and bring you to a magistrate to determine who you are.”
In that case, the person’s fingerprints are entered into the national database, which is monitored by ICE, Roessler said. When there are hits on the database, FCPD is obligated by state law to share that information with ICE.
And while police don’t participate in “administrative raids,” Roessler said, FCPD has asked ICE to give the police a heads up before a raid to avoid conflicts and so people don’t call 911 to report a home invasion.
He also said he wished ICE would change their uniforms, which say “police,” because that is confusing. “They are not police in the traditional sense.”
It’s important to recognize the written policy that clearly states FCPD will not cooperate with ICE, said Sandoval-Moshenberg. But there may be concerns with individual officers who are not following that policy, he said, which means more training is needed.
ICE agents cannot come into the public schools unless they first present a warrant to the administration, said school board member Dalia Palchik (Providence). Schools are subject to a federal law that protects privacy and prohibits the schools from giving out family information, she said.
Fear of deportation
“If ICE agents come to your door, do not open the door unless they have an order from a judge.” If they do have one, ask them pass it under the door, Torres advised.
If a person sought by ICE voluntarily opens the door, ICE can take the whole family, added Katz. “You have the right to remain silent,” he said. “Any information you give could be used against you. Never lie, but you don’t have to tell them you aren’t a citizen.”
Katz urged people facing an immigration court date to show up and bring a lawyer. “If you don’t appear, the consequences are serious,” he said. If you can’t find an attorney, tell the judge, and you will probably be given more time to find one.
Immigration rights advocates urged people to have a plan in place for their families in case they are arrested. Plans should cover such issues as who will take care of the children and who can access a bank account in case the person detained needs to pay a fine, said Sandoval-Moshenberg.
Under the Obama Administration, an undocumented person who has been in the U.S. for decades and doesn’t have a criminal record would be considered a low priority for deportation.
Under the Trump Administration, the definition of who is at risk of deportation has been expanded, and ICE is picking up people with clean criminal records, he said. That’s why it’s important for the Sheriff’s Office to stop allowing ICE inside the jail and access the state database.