|Immigrant advocates, from the left, Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg of the Legal Aid Justice Center, and Sookyung Oh and Jung Bin Cho of the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium.|
Fairfax County needs to do more, however, to address the “crisis of deportations,” the advocates said at a press briefing March 14 at the office of the National Korean American Service & Education Consorium (NAKASEC) in Annandale.
|The deportation pipeline [created by Diane Alejandro for ACLU People Power Fairfax and the Fairfax for All Coalition]|
That policy change has already had an impact. Since Feb. 18, the sheriff’s office has only turned over one person to ICE. Between January and October of 2017, the sheriff let ICE pick up 663 people.
Those people hadn’t been convicted of a crime or sentenced. The vast majority were being held for minor charges, such as possession of a small amount of marijuana or public intoxication. If a regular citizen were booked, they would likely be released right away on their own recognizance.
The sheriff’s cancellation of the contract with ICE “is a positive step forward,” said Sandoval-Moshenberg, an attorney with LAJC. “But this is just minimum compliance with the law. Fairfax County considers itself welcoming to immigrants. We demand more than the bare minimum.”
Families torn apart
More than 11,000 county residents face deportation hearings; that is one of every 100 county residents, Sandoval-Moshenberg said. Fairfax County has the seventh highest number of deportations in the United States – more than Dallas, Baltimore, Orange County, Calif.; and Maricopa County, Ariz.
Mason District is “the heart of the crisis,” with 2,637 people – one in 40 Mason residents – awaiting deportation proceedings, he said.
It’s not only undocumented people who are affected. People with green cards or covered by DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) could be deported if convicted of an felony – and in Virginia, stealing something worth $200 or having a small amount of marijuana is a felony.
“One bad decision on a Saturday night could get a green-card holder in deportation proceedings,” said Sandoval-Moshenberg.
Deporting people has a huge impact on families. If parents are deported, their children are likely to grow up in a broken home in extreme poverty – or they will follow their parents home and come back when they are 18, Sandoval-Moshenberg said. “This has extraordinarily negative long-term consequences.”
One of his clients is a single mother in Mason District with a child born in the United States with severe special needs. She is facing a deportation order because she was stuck in a security line in the courthouse and missed a court hearing. She will now probably have to move back to South America because the minor mistake of failing to get to the court half an hour early.
NAKASEC shares an office with the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network, and Oh noted an activist with that group, Alejandra Pablos, a green-card holder, has been detained in Arizona for a week after she checked in with ICE because of minor charges on her record.
The next step for NAKASEC and LAJC is to urge the Fairfax County government and school board to change their policies on immigrants, said Sookyung Oh, D.C. area director of NAKASEC. The groups have scheduled a community meeting on March 17 at NAKASEC officers to talk about what to work on next “to interrupt the deportation pipeline.”
Since undocumented immigrants can’t get a Virginia driver’s license, the advocates would like Fairfax County to allow them to use another form of legal identification.
“If you’re undocumented and driving, you could face deportation of you pass a stop sign, have a broken tail light, or make an illegal turn,” Oh said. Some immigrants who can’t get a driver’s license in Virginia get one from another state in a misguided attempt to follow the law.
Noting that most of the people facing deportation – three in 10 – don’t have a lawyer, Sandoval-Moshenberg would like to see Fairfax County provide legal representation to help people in deportation proceedings. Arlington County funds an attorney for immigrants, at about $100,000 a year, and the City of Baltimore provides two. While there are nonprofit groups that offer legal services, they have long waiting lists.
Focus on crime
Another policy the immigration advocates want Fairfax County to adopt is to prohibit the police from sharing data with ICE. The Fairfax County Police Department has in general been good about not taking on the role of immigration enforcers, but police officers have the discretion to contact ICE if they stop someone.
“We want to remove that discretion. The police are here to enforce county laws. They are not immigration officers,” Sandoval-Moshenberg said. “If someone commits a crime, they need to be arrested, but should not suffer additional consequences because of where they’re from.”
This is particularly important in light of the current federal administration’s policy calling for immigration enforcement “to be as brutal and aggressive as possible,” he said. “In this context, Fairfax County needs to step back and walk away from immigration enforcement.”
“We’re not asking the police to not arrest criminals,” Oh said. “The majority of folks turned over to ICE are not criminals; they’ve been arrested for minor issues.”
“The police have done a lot of work building trust with the community,” Sandoval-Moshenberg said. “Immigrants have been willing to talk to them. That’s why Fairfax has seen less gang crime.”
“That trust is being undermined by the tougher polices of this administration,” he said. “Immigrants are retreating into their apartments behind locked doors. That’s making it harder to prosecute MS-13 crimes. Victims and witnesses are afraid to come forward. Our goal is to rebuild that trust.”