Arlington County policy limits cooperation with immigration officials



Arlington County this week passed a “trust policy” this severely limits the instances in which the county can cooperate with federal immigration officials, a move intended to encourage undocumented residents of suburban northern Virginia to seek police assistance and use other resources governmental.

The policy, passed unanimously Tuesday by the Arlington County Board, says all Arlington residents can access public services, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. It also says county resources cannot be used for immigration enforcement and prohibits county employees, including police, from asking residents about their immigration status.

“The whole community has been very welcoming to new immigrants, and we have taken additional steps to move much further in that direction,” county council member Matt De Ferranti (D) said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s an ongoing effort to build trust. I’m not claiming it’s perfect, but it’s significant progress.

Yet the new policy falls short of all the demands of some activist groups, who for more than a year have been calling on county lawmakers to accept a wide range of identity documents and prohibit Arlington police from working with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“It was time to take a decisive break, and they didn’t,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, legal director of the Immigrant Advocacy Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center. “Police should be completely out of immigration enforcement business.”

Arlington is reconsidering when to work with ICE. Activists want the county to cut ties completely.

The passage of the trust policy follows more than a year of debate in this deep blue county, where about one in four residents is foreign-born and where state laws are written by a General Assembly that is generally more moderate in its approach to immigration.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, advocates said many undocumented residents were reluctant to access county services, fearing their personal information might not be protected.

They also pointed to events following an August 2019 vehicle crash on Columbia Pike in which a motorist was kicked out following an interaction with Arlington police.

The man was unable to offer a US license and instead offered other identification documents, which police suspected to be fake. Officers conducted a background check which revealed he was a deported felon, prompting them to contact ICE – who then picked him up from the scene.

Under the “Trust Policy,” Arlington Police can now only contact ICE if they have arrested someone for a violent crime or in certain limited situations involving threats to community safety, terrorism or human trafficking and street gang offences. Officers must now also receive permission from a supervisor to contact ICE and, under a law passed last year, cannot arrest someone for failing to show identification.

Sandoval-Moshenberg, whose organization provides legal representation for low-income residents facing eviction proceedings, said Arlington should have learned from Fairfax, which last year banned police and all county personnel to contact ICE in all situations.

The trust policies in either jurisdiction do not supersede state or federal law, which in some cases authorize or direct local law enforcement to communicate with ICE. For example, officials are required to submit the fingerprints of anyone imprisoned in a federal database accessible to the agency.

Activists also called on county lawmakers to push Sheriff Beth Arthur (D), who is elected independently of the county council, to adopt similar practices cutting off communication with ICE.

Arlington does not honor ICE detainees, which are requests from the agency to hold undocumented detainees beyond their jail time until federal agents can retrieve them.

Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Tara Johnson said that the county jail can and does let ICE know when they are about to release someone with an inmate who has been arrested for a felony.

The “trust policy” asks the sheriff’s office to provide data about its interactions with ICE. It also directs the new Arlington Police Oversight Board to investigate any alleged police violations of these new rules.


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