At City Council meeting, Bellamy talks about ongoing struggle to end ICE notifications in region

The Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail Authority Board, which Bellamy is a member of, will consider the issue in November

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As a member of the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail Authority Board, Bellamy is pushing for the termination of the jail's current policy of notifying ICE when undocumented individuals are released form the prison.   

Geremia Di Maro | Cavalier Daily

Charlottesville City Councilor Wes Bellamy spoke at length Monday at a Council meeting on the regional struggle to end the policy of notifying Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the release of undocumented individuals from the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail in response to public comments regarding the policy. 

The Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail was first established in 1974 when the City and Albemarle County decided to merge their prison systems through the construction of a new inmate facility. The existing jail also serves the jurisdiction of Nelson County. 

Bellamy was appointed to the board in January to fill a vacancy left by former Councilor Kristin Szakos. Bellamy is one of four individuals from Charlottesville who is currently appointed to the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail Authority Board, along with Interim City Manager Mike Murphy, Sheriff James Brown and City resident Kathy Johnson-Harris. 

The board also has four appointed members from Albemarle County — including Board of Supervisors Chair Diantha McKeel and Assistant County Executive Doug Walker — and two appointed members from Nelson County — Sheriff David Hill and County Executive Steven Carter. 

During the community matters portion of the Council meeting, City resident Angeline Conn called upon the Council to initiate the process for becoming a sanctuary city, or a city that does not comply with ICE by refusing to share the information of undocumented individuals with the federal agency. 

Conn specifically cited a recent announcement by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms that the City will no longer cooperate with ICE officials in the detention of undocumented individuals.

“ICE is a federal agency, you have no obligation to deal with them,” Conn said. “If a city like Atlanta can stop informing ICE of immigration status, Charlottesville can stop informing ICE of people’s immigration status for traffic tickets, for child support [cases]. 

Currently, there are no localities in Virginia that have formally adopted non-compliance laws with regards to informing ICE officials of the actions of undocumented individuals. Under Virginia law, as it is considered a Dillon Rule state, such an action would likely be illegal as it would exceed those specific powers which are granted to localities by the Virginia General Assembly. 

Bellamy said the current policy of the regional jail requires that ICE officials be notified as soon as an undocumented individual is admitted into the facility. 

“The federal policy states that they have to be notified at least once,” Bellamy said. “The follow-up policy that the jail board has is that ICE will also be notified upon the person being released or once it is known what their release date is going to be.” 

Federal law requires law enforcement agencies to notify ICE officials when an undocumented individual has been arrested on criminal charges. After the individual’s fingerprints are stored in the ICE database, ICE officials may interview the individual at the jail and place a detainer on the person. This designation would put the undocumented individual at risk of detention at an immigration center and possible deportation upon release from the regional jail. 

Additionally, ICE officials can request that an inmate’s scheduled release be delayed for up to 48 hours to allow for possible detention by ICE. However, the regional jail terminated its policy last year of holding individuals past their release date by 48 to 72 hours to allow ICE officials time to detain an individual. 

Moreover, there is no legal requirement to notify ICE when undocumented individuals are released from a prison for any reason. 

In an email to The Cavalier Daily, Col. Martin Kumer, superintendent for the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, said preliminary data for the period between June 2017 and June 2018 shows that 25 individuals from the facility were taken into custody by ICE — 13 of whom were either charged or convicted for a crime in Albemarle County, seven in the City of Charlottesville and five in Nelson County. 

Kumer added that not all of the individuals taken into custody were necessarily residents of the respective localities in which they were detained. 

With regards to the number undocumented individuals taken into custody by ICE in the region, Kumer said the federal agency does not provide follow-up information to the jail once an individual is in custody. However, Kumer said that ICE officials have informed him in the past that not all of the individuals taken into custody are deported. 

At a January meeting of the jail board, Kumer recommended the continuation of the jail’s policy regarding the notification of ICE for undocumented individuals who are designated with detainer status due to what he said was the federal agency’s extensive knowledge of the individual’s criminal history. 

In August, both the Commonwealth’s Attorneys for Albemarle County and Nelson County — Robert Tracci and Daniel Rutherford, respectively — expressed their desire to maintain the current policy of notifying ICE as well in the name of public safety. In particular, Tracci said in a letter to the board that there is information regarding the criminal background of those undocumented individuals with detainer status which is only known to ICE. Tracci added that these individuals with unclear criminal backgrounds would be released into the region if not taken into custody by ICE. 

With regards to the City’s ability to adopt sanctuary status, Bellamy said Monday that the action would be a risky move due to the potential loss of federal funds for City programs and initiatives. Bellamy also said he feared that Charlottesville’s potential status as a sanctuary city would increase the  criminalization of undocumented individuals in Albemarle County, given that the County would not have sanctuary status. 

However, Bellamy and City Attorney John Blair added that the Council could add the proposal for sanctuary city status to its legislative agenda by November, in which Del. David Toscano and Sen. Creigh Deeds would present the transition to the General Assembly for approval in January.  

Nonetheless, Bellamy emphasized that he and Murphy were fighting for at least partial non-compliance with ICE as members of the regional jail board. He added that he has worked with members of the Legal Aid Justice Center and Sin Barreras as the board has been conducting a review of the current policy since January. 

The LAJC is a Virginia based organization which provides legal assistance to low-income individuals, while Sin Barreras is a Charlottesville-based non-profit organization which focuses on outreach to the local immigrant community. 

“The policy that we were fighting for since January is to have that changed,” Bellamy said. “The issue is that we are one jurisdiction debating amongst a group that [includes] Albemarle [County] and Nelson [County]. What we brought up, not only in January but literally every meeting since January, is for us to have the policy changed in which ICE is not notified after an undocumented individual is released.” 

The proposal has been presented to the board a number of times this year, was rejected in a 7-3 vote in January and has again resurfaced for consideration by the board. At a meeting of the board Sept. 13, the proposal was again tabled until the body’s Nov. 8 meeting for further consideration. 

At the Sept. 13 meeting, Bellamy said Monday that he proposed a compromise — in which undocumented individuals with certain misdemeanor charges would not be subject to ICE notification upon release from the jail —  to convince the board of the policy change. More specifically, Bellamy cited a memo compiled by Charlottesville Commonwealth Attorney Joseph Platania describing the four offenses which undocumented individuals are most frequently charged for — loitering, driving without a license, public intoxication and civil cases involving child support. 

However, Bellamy said there was still not enough support from the 11 voting members of the board as a whole to implement a policy in which the aforementioned charges would not be reported to ICE officials when the responsible individuals were released from the jail. 

At the September meeting of the board, Kathy Johnson-Harris, Charlottesville’s citizen representative to the board, opposed the measure as she said she was uncomfortable with the board assuming the role of identifying which crimes are serious enough to notify ICE for. 

Bellamy added Monday that Platania has agreed to contact ICE officials on behalf of the City to inform the agency of any potential efforts to stop notifying them of the release of undocumented individuals, but said the full support board of the jail board would be essential. 

“I promise you, literally we are doing everything and trying to use every tactic that we can to get the policy changed, to prolong the points so we can convince our other board members, but it’s difficult,” Bellamy said. “We are trying our hardest to stop ICE, but we’re in a jail board that doesn’t consist of just us.” 

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