Pushing For Change in Fairfax County

 Tonight at 8pm ET, CASA Virginia Director Michelle La Rue will join a conversation about state and local advocacy for immigrant rights in Virginia with Demos Counsel Allie Boldt and Sookuung Oh of the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, on the “Inside Scoop” on Fairfax Public Access. Tune in for this important discussion.   

In January 2017, Fairfax County Sheriff Kincaid announced that her office would terminate its agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), under which the county rents “bed space” in its jail to detain people for ICE. Sheriff Kincaid also announced that her office would no longer be honoring ICE requests to unconstitutionally detain people after their scheduled release date. The Fairfax County-ICE agreement, which the county had entered voluntarily, contributed to hundreds of individuals being deported and being separated from their loved ones – even before the nightmare of immigration enforcement under the current administration began. Many of these individuals were placed into the deportation pipeline when taken into custody by the Fairfax County Police.

The termination of the county’s agreement with ICE did not come out of left field: it was the product of months of hard work and organizing by the Fairfax For All coalition, which came together in April 2017 and has been consistently pushing for change in Fairfax County ever since. The Coalition is made up of membership and advocacy organizations like CASA, ACLU-People Power of Fairfax, Herndon-Reston Indivisible, La ColectiVA, Northern Virginia Ethical Society, SEIU, the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, Tenant & Workers United, DMV Sanctuary Congregation Network, and Demos, as well as community members. Together, we represent thousands of Fairfax County residents.

While the termination of the county’s voluntary agreement with ICE is a step in the right direction and a clear policy victory for the Coalition – as well as a victory over divisive rhetoric conflating immigrants with gang members – our ultimate goal is much bigger: The County must end all unnecessary and unconstitutional collaboration with ICE.

Currently, that collaboration happens in a number of ways – beyond renting bed space to ICE and the sheriff’s honoring of ICE detainer requests. For instance, the Juvenile Detention Center similarly honors unconstitutional ICE requests to hold juveniles past their scheduled release date. The Police and Sheriff’s Office also help ICE investigate people, even though they are under no obligation to do so. The Sheriff actually directs all her employees to provide ICE with as much information as possible about individuals who have been released from the jail.

Fairfax County Police also collaborate with ICE in a way that is unnecessary and that rips families apart. The mother and wife of one such Fairfax County family, Liliana Cruz Mendez, was stopped by Fairfax Police for driving with a broken tail light – something that many of us have done. During the interaction, the police notified ICE, and this started a chain of events that ultimately led to Liliana being deported to El Salvador this fall and separated from her family.

Fairfax County should restrict these kinds of collaboration with ICE, and do even more to protect immigrant community members, like:

  • Limit ICE agents’ access to county facilities like jails, schools, and other public facilities, and require that ICE agents clearly identify themselves there.
  • Stop arresting immigrants and bringing them into custody when others would be released on a misdemeanor summons.
  • Prohibit police officers from searching or requesting biometric data (like DNA swabs, or searches for tattoos) without cause.
  • Protect confidential and sensitive information about community members (including personal contact information and immigration/citizenship status).
  • Do not collect information about immigration or citizenship status in the first place.
  • Create a more comprehensive language access policy to protect individuals with Limited English Proficiency.
  • Collect data to allow the public to hold county law enforcement accountable and ensure compliance with local policies and the U.S. Constitution.

With so much more to be done, the Fairfax For All coalition is asking the Board of Supervisors to enact a county-wide ordinance to advance these protections.

If you’re a resident of Fairfax county, let your representatives on the Board of Supervisors know that you support the Fairfax For All coalition’s efforts to end unnecessary and unconstitutional collaboration with ICE in our community. Together, we can drive change from the ground up in our communities.