In response to the upcoming Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail Board meeting May 9, which will discuss Immigration and Customs Enforcement Policy at the jail, student groups such as DREAMers on Grounds, Political Latinxs United for Movement and Action in Society and University Democrats have mobilized to raise awareness and rally against the jail’s ICE notification policy.
Currently, the policy of the ACRJ is to call ICE, upon request from ICE, at least 72 hours prior to when an undocumented immigrant is going to be released from the jail. The jail does not hold any person longer than scheduled for ICE, which is a policy that was put in place in 2017. Prior to this decision, the jail would hold people for ICE, even after the time they were supposed to be released.
DREAMers on Grounds and PLUMAS hosted an information session last Friday in the Multicultural Student Center to discuss the current policy at the ACRJ and the changes the groups hope to see in the future. The groups are advocating for abolishment of the current policy, following the slogan “ICE OUT of Cville.”
The #ICEOUTofCville campaign was started by a community of organizers, including graduate Arts & Sciences student Andrea Negrete, in connection with the “ICE OUT of RVA” campaign in Richmond, Virgina.
“What we feel is immigration status should never be used to target people no matter their criminal background, but this is exactly what ICE is doing at the ACRJ,” Negrete said. “The decisions that we make here locally can either support undocumented community members or aim to make their live harder and in fact aim to terrorize that community and that is exactly what the ACRJ policies is doing to undocumented folks.”
Last Friday’s event presented general information about ICE, the issue at the ACRJ and how students around Grounds can help the cause. According to Katherine Soba, four-year Curry student and president of DREAMers on Grounds, the purpose of the presentation was to “get more students to be involved” as they advocate for the removal of the ICE notification policy.
DREAMers on Grounds has been advocating for the removal for the notification policy for the past two years. PLUMAS has also worked closely with them — and recently University Democrats as well — to support the advocates within the Charlottesville community through actions including attending board meetings, participating in call-in campaigns and painting Beta Bridge.
“As U.Va. students in Charlottesville I feel like our voices matter a lot to local government,” Soba said. “If we don’t show interest or care or anger towards this inhumane policy than it’s likely they may not do anything about it.”
According to Albemarle County Board of Supervisors member Diantha McKeel, of the 4,000 to 5,000 people released from the jail every year, only an average of 25 to 44 of those people are undocumented. In addition, McKeel said no one is ever arrested only for being undocumented, only for commiting crimes.
“The policy is not helpful to anybody because it’s attacking people who have already been released, cleared by the local court system or have already served their time or paid their bonds,” Soba said. “So to release them and then to notify ICE to come and detain them is kind of ironic in a sense because they haven’t done anything wrong… it’s just an inhumane policy.”
According to Melissa Borja, fourth-year College student and government relations chair for DREAMers on Grounds, the ICE notification policy is an example of the inequality in the justice system for undocumented community members.
“People that support notifications are failing to see the greater system that treats undocumented people fundamentally in a different way,” Borja said. “You can face a fundamentally criminal justice system as a undocumented person than a permanent resident. And a lot of the things that make it so varied are done voluntarily by localities.”
The ICE notifications are done voluntarily, by decision of the jail and it’s policies. However, anyone brought to jail is required to scan their fingerprints, which are also sent to ICE. According to McKeel, this means that ICE already is aware of any undocumented people in the jail, before a call is made.
“The voluntary phone calls are a secondary notification,” McKeel said. “ICE already knows who is in the jail based on the finger prints. Matter of fact, 30 percent of the inmates that ICE removes have not even been to court for their trial, much less had a release date that we could even call about. That alone shows you that they are following who’s in our jail based on those finger prints.”
ICE decides when and if they will detain people from the jail on a case-by-case basis. There are cases where they never come retrieve an undocumented person, and there are times when they get them before they even are seen by a judge.
According to McKeel, although this policy has been declared optional in Virginia, federally the government looks for how well jails are collaborating with ICE. The optionality of the policy has “never been held up in court.”
“All other jails in the state of Virginia, including Washington D.C., call ICE,” ACRJ Superintendent Martin Kumer said. “If we chose to tell them that ‘the notification procedure has changed, you may get the notification information from Vine,’ we would be the first jail in the state of Virginia and the District of Columbia and potentially in the country to do that.”
The jail currently uses a public automated database system called Vine Link, which stores the information of the people in the prison. They have been working to update the system so that it can be used for ICE to find out when prisoners are released, rather than the jail having to call.
“The system is already there, already in place for 23 to 25 years already, and the information is already out there, so it’s not something in our control,” Kumer said. “Vine is a necessary component for victims… There will be no getting rid of Vine ever — there will always be a victim notification system.”
Vine Link updates every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day, and would possess the information about release dates that ICE usually obtains over the phone.
“The idea that this technology will be sending notifications... allows people, I think, to be detached from the process,” Borja said. “I think it’s a cop out and makes people feel like they aren’t actually a part of what’s going on. So I would in general caution people to involving technology in this way in terms of funneling people from detention to deportation. I think that’s really scary and a little bit dystopian.”
According to Negrete, being the only jail to stop notifying ICE, is an opportunity for the City, not a cause for concern.
“The ACRJ has the opportunity to become the first local jail in the state of Virginia to end ICE notifications which is huge,” Negrete said. “The jail board has the opportunity to lead with courage of doing the right thing rather than the fear of how the white supremacists may respond. The meeting in May is an opportunity for them to do the right thing and end this policy that is terrorizing local communities.”
At the ACRJ Board Authority meeting May 9, the Board will be deciding on if the policy will change moving forward. However, according to McKeel, the decision is not if they stop notifying ICE — which is what DREAMers and PLUMAS is advocating for — it is just to potentially change how ICE is being notified.
The agenda for the Board meeting will be available May 3 and has not yet been finalized. However, according to McKeel, the Board will not be conducting a formal vote because this decision is a matter of policy, not law.
Leading up to the Board meeting, PLUMAS, DREAMers on Grounds and UDems are also sponsoring other events to spread awareness about the potential policy change. They will be conducting call-in campaigns, bringing people together to attend the Board meeting and creating a petition to send to the jail board.
DREAMers on Grounds and UDems held an event in front of Garrett Hall for the second day of their call-in campaign in support of ending ICE notifications at the ACRJ April 17. The groups gave out scripts to use on the campaign phone calls and sheets with information about the goal of the campaign, the numbers to call and details about attending the May Board meeting.
According to Steven Radilla, a second-year College student and the secretary for DREAMers on Grounds, the goal of the campaign is to flood the lines of the Board members that are involved in making this decision.
“Essentially what we want to do is make this is easy as possible,” Radilla said. “We want people to be able to call, so we printed out both these flyers so people can call from wherever they want. [We’re calling] the jail board members because it’s them — they’re the ones making the decision. They’re not elected to that position, so it’s messed up how this is all working out.”
The groups have also been circulating an open letter to the members of the ACRJ authority Board demanding the end of voluntary ICE notifications.
“Recent political developments have made ending ICE notification here in Charlottesville even more imperative,” the letter read. “HB2270, a State bill which would have required that localities like Charlottesville cooperate with ICE, was vetoed this past session — as a result, the Board has full reign to end voluntary notification on its own.”
Currently, the petition has been signed by 19 organizations — including Student Council and Latinx Student Alliance — and 99 individuals.
The University activist groups continue to demand that voluntary ICE notifications end altogether, and that switching to Vine Link — and thereby continuing to notify ICE — does not help the undocumented community.
“As a local jurisdiction we should say no to an agency [ICE] that over and over again is committing human rights violations,” Negrete said. “I won’t choose between the two of less evils [Vine Link and direct calls].”
The open letter also states that Attorney General Mark Herring (D-Va.) has declined to make legal comments on the current notification policy and has effectively echoed McKeel’s statement that the board decision is a matter of policy and not law.
“It is time for our local representatives to end their complicity with a force that demonizes and terrorizes immigrant communities across the country,” the letter said. “ICE’s violent, military-style raids have maimed thousands of people, torn families apart, and instilled fear among immigrants and people of color.”