Arlington County policy restricts working with immigration officers

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Arlington County this week passed a “trust policy” This severely limits the cases in which the county can cooperate with federal immigration authorities, a measure intended to encourage undocumented residents in the northern Virginia suburbs to seek help from the police and other government resources.

The policy, passed unanimously by the Arlington County Board on Tuesday, confirms that all Arlington residents have access to public services, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. It also states that county resources may not be used to enforce immigration regulations and prohibits county employees, including police, from asking residents about their immigration status.

“The entire community has been very welcoming of new immigrants, and we’ve taken some additional steps to go much further in that direction,” said Matt De Ferranti (D), a county board member, in an interview Wednesday. “It’s a constant effort to build trust. I’m not saying this is perfect, but it’s a significant step forward.”

Still, the new policy stands in the way of meeting every demand from some activist groups, which for over a year had urged county lawmakers to accept and accept a wide range of identification documents prevent the Arlington police from even cooperating with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“This was the moment to make a crucial break, and they didn’t do that,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, legal director of the immigrant advocacy program at the Legal Aid Justice Center. “The police should stay completely out of the business of immigration enforcement.”

Arlington is considering when to partner with ICE. Activists want the county to cut ties entirely.

The passage of the escrow policy follows more than a year of debate in this deep blue county, where about one in four residents is foreign-born and state laws are written by a general assembly that is typically more dovish 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 vehicular accident on Columbia Pike in which a motorist was deported after an interaction with Arlington police.

Unable to offer a US license, the man instead offered other identification documents that police suspected were fake. Officers conducted a background check that revealed he was a deported felon and told them to contact ICE – who then met him at the scene.

Under the “Trust Policy,” Arlington Police can now only contact ICE when they have arrested someone for a violent crime or in some limited situations involving community security threats, terrorism or human trafficking and street gang crimes. Officers also now have to get permission from a supervisor to contact ICE, and under a law passed last year, they can’t arrest anyone for not showing ID.

Sandoval-Moshenberg, whose organization provides legal representation to low-income residents facing deportation, said Arlington should have followed Fairfax’s last year ban on police and all county officials from contacting ICE about any situation.

The fiduciary policies in either jurisdiction do not supersede state or federal laws that in some cases permit or direct local law enforcement agencies to communicate with ICE. For example, officers must submit the fingerprints of people who have been sent to prison to a federal database that the agency can access.

Activists have also called on county lawmakers to urge Sheriff Beth Arthur (D), who is independently elected by the county council, to use similar practices to cut communications with ICE.

Arlington does not honor ICE inmates, which are agency requests to hold undocumented inmates beyond their prison time until federal agents can pick them up.

Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Tara Johnson said: that the County Jail can and does notify ICE when it is about to release someone with an inmate who has been arrested for a felony.

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

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