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Fairfax County Should Do More to Protect Immigrant Communities


by Matt Bakker (Associate Professor of Sociology at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia) and Mary Supley (volunteers as the coordinator of the Immigration Issues Committee of Herndon-Reston Indivisible)

The rhetoric and policy initiatives of Donald Trump have challenged Democratic voters and
politicians to clarify their positions on immigration policy. As witnessed by the airport
protests when Trump first announced his “Muslim ban” to the more recent uproar over “kids in cages”, it is clear that Trump’s anti-immigrant politics are an affront to the pro-immigrant values of most Democrats and progressives. Unfortunately, our local Fairfax County government, even though it is dominated by Democratic politicians, has been unwilling to act in ways that are consonant with these pro-immigrant values; the feckless
resolution passed in April 2017 by the Board of Supervisors and School Board asserting that Fairfax County aspires to be a welcoming community contrasts sharply with the county’s deep and on-going collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and its detention-to-deportation pipeline.

Fortunately, the County’s collaboration with ICE has become a campaign issue for
candidates for Board of Supervisors, School Board, Commonwealth Attorney, and Sheriff
preparing for the June primary and November general election. As members of the Fairfax
for All Coalition, we believe it is high time for people who value equity and respect the
dignity and rights of every person to take back the language of “sanctuary” and fight to
make our county a welcoming and inclusive place truly worthy of that title. The upcoming
elections provide us with a golden opportunity to do so. Instead of cowering in the face of
anti-immigrant fear-mongers such as Prince William County’s Corey Stewart, our local
leaders should take decisive action to stop our local complicity with the brutal deportation
policies put into place by ICE that generate fear in immigrant communities, break up
families, and undermine trust in local government and law enforcement.

Fairfax County, along with other Virginia localities, has a lot of work to do in this respect. The data on local cooperation with ICE gathered by Syracuse University’s “Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse” (TRAC) offer up some familiar and saddening truths. For example, from the nationwide rollout of the federal government’s high-tech “Secure Communities” program in February 2013 through November 2015 (when ICE stopped providing detailed information to TRAC), Virginia localities were among the most cooperative in the nation. Using the TRAC data, we calculated the “compliance rate” for all jurisdictions across the country; this measures the proportion of immigrants transferred into ICE custody following the issuance of a voluntary “detainer” request. Focusing on the 200 localities where ICE was most active during this period (measured by number of detainers issued), we find that Virginia counties occupy 5 of the top 13 spots on this unflattering list of the most cooperative localities in the country.

It is not much of a surprise that Loudoun County sits at number 3 on the list with a
compliance rate of 0.841, or that Prince William County comes in at number 11 with a rate of 0.761. What might come as more of a surprise, however, is that both Arlington County (0.800) and Fairfax County (0.731) also find themselves at the top of this notorious list, coming in at numbers 7 and 13, respectively. With compliance rates like this, our County governments were in the same company as Maricopa County, Arizona, and its blatantly discriminatory and anti-immigrant Sheriff Joe Arpaio. These numbers highlight just how faithfully our elected officials in Fairfax County and across the commonwealth cooperated with the federal government as it deported record numbers of immigrants in the first half of this decade.

There is ample reason to believe that this faithful cooperation continues apace. Internal data provided by the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office shows that ICE continues taking custody of large numbers of immigrants. Between January and August 2018, for example, ICE took custody of 319 immigrants from the Fairfax County Adult Detention Facility – an average of 9 per week. Further, even after Sheriff Stacey Kincaid was rightfully lauded for canceling the County’s Inter-governmental Service Agreement with ICE and no longer holding immigrants on the basis of ICE detainers, her new policy of providing ICE with advance notice of a detainee’s release date and time resulted in 73 of 87 immigrants (83.9%) being turned over to ICE during the months of August and September 2018.

We can do better than this. While we often hear that local officials can’t do anything to limit their cooperation because of the constraints imposed by the Dillon Rule, this is just political heel-dragging. In his public statement announcing the veto of SB1156 and HB2270 — anti-sanctuary bills passed in the last session of the General Assembly — Governor Northam affirmed that local officials maintain “discretion to determine how they choose to engage with federal immigration agencies.” Our local political leaders should take advantage of this policy space and definitively put an end to the shameful complicity of the last decade. If the current members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors won’t act in ways that are consistent with our values, ending collaboration with ICE and making our community truly welcoming of all, then let’s vote in candidates who will!


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