It has been the long-standing policy of the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement when an undocumented individual is released. This policy has not been without controversy, as it has sparked a great deal of community and student activism. Most recently, a group of students and organizations at the University co-signed a letter demanding an end to this policy. While we are sympathetic to the plight of unauthorized immigrants into the United States and are aware of the abuses many of these individuals face while in ICE custody, we do not explicitly endorse all of the contents of the letter. However, we do agree the policy of notifying ICE when an undocumented person is released should be reversed, as it presents a number of practical issues that directly impact the Charlottesville community.
The main grievance we have with this policy is that it is not the responsibility of local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law. In fact, it is a distinguishing feature of the United States Constitution that state and federal powers are separate. In line with this ideal, the primary objective of local law enforcement is to enforce state and local law and ensure that community members feel safe. Coordinating with ICE has the potential to make community members less safe because then individuals of various documentation statuses are incentivized to not report crimes or cooperate with the police during investigations due to fear of being deported.
This problem has become apparent to policymakers across the country. For example, California became the nation’s first “Sanctuary State” a designation which prohibits coordination between local law enforcement and ICE statewide. Specifically, this law prevents local law enforcement from notifying ICE when they release an undocumented person from prison in many cases, and only allows for the arrest of an undocumented person if ICE has a warrant signed by a federal judge. Moreover, researchers found that these laws actually do not increase crime but rather encourage individuals to report crimes because they are more comfortable cooperating with local officials.
It is also worth mentioning that the ACRJ board has scaled back its cooperation with ICE in the past. Recently, they ended the ACRJ’s practice of holding undocumented immigrants 48-72 hours after they were scheduled to be released for ICE to come collect them. However, more reforms are needed to make undocumented members of our community feel safer when interacting with law enforcement.
While the ACRJ board has declined to reverse this policy in recent meetings, the situation has become even more dire in the past few days. Gov. Ralph Northam currently has a bill on his desk that would mandate localities to report when undocumented immigrants are released from jail to ICE. If Northam signs this bill, it will compel localities to cooperate with ICE, even if they were so inclined to change their policies. Unfortunately, Northam has a mixed record when it comes to immigrant rights and famously lost an endorsement during his gubernatorial run because he declined to support sanctuary cities.
However, it is imperative that two separate actions take place. Firstly, the governor must veto this bill and ensure these policy decisions stay within the localities, and the ACRJ must change its notification policy. Only then will we ensure that everyone, regardless of documentation status, will feel safe reporting crimes to the police. Local authorities are currently not legally bound to report this information to ICE, so the ACRJ board must examine the evidence and ultimately conclude that it is in the community’s interest for the board to change its policy.
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