By Georgia Geen
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — Raising concerns from immigrant advocacy groups, two bills that would increase cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities are advancing through the Virginia General Assembly.
HB 2270, sponsored by Republican Del. Charles Poindexter of Franklin County, would require local law enforcement officials to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the release date of an immigrant “alien,” or noncitizen, as soon as it is known. The bill cleared the Senate Courts of Justice Committee on Wednesday after being passed by the House last week.
Poindexter said at a Feb. 1 committee hearing that ICE does not “normally pick up illegal aliens when they’re released,” but he thinks federal authorities should be notified and able to detain individuals based on the agency’s risk assessment model.
Leonina Arismendi, a member of ICE out of RVA, an advocacy group for immigrants, opposes the bill. Arismendi said ICE “tries to get who they can and see what can stick in terms of charges to do removal proceedings.”
The bill would apply to any noncitizen, including permanent residents, people who are seeking or have received asylum, people with work permits and people who do not have documents allowing them to live in the U.S.
Arismendi’s sister, who is in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, was arrested in Fredericksburg last year. ICE requested the Rappahannock Regional Jail hold her for an additional period of time, Arismendi said, but she was eventually released.
Arismendi said bills that require collaboration between ICE and local law enforcement erode trust between police and immigrants. As a result of HB 2270, Arismendi said, some immigrants might not feel comfortable reporting crimes like sexual assault or domestic violence to the police.
“They’re afraid that if they go to the police and they’re asked, ‘Do you have a Social Security number?’ or something like that, they could be detained and ICE could come,” Arismendi said. “The fear is already there; this is just going to solidify that fear.”
Ira Mehlman, media director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said requiring localities to notify ICE of a noncitizen’s release date is the same as cooperation with other law enforcement agencies.
“They have an obligation to inform ICE, just as if, say, the New York Police Department was looking for somebody,” Mehlman said. “They would, as a matter of courtesy, as a matter of routine, pick up the phone and say, ‘This guy’s getting out on Tuesday.’”
Arismendi believes HB 2270 will pass the Senate but is uncertain what will happen when the legislation arrives at the governor’s desk.
In the past, Arismendi said, ICE out of RVA has communicated with Gov. Ralph Northam on immigration issues. But it seems “like he’s hiding from the [minority] community at large” since the publication of a racist photo from Northam’s page in his 1984 medical school yearbook, Arismendi said.
Last year, Northam vetoed a bill that would have banned “sanctuary cities,” generally a term referring to localities that do not cooperate with ICE.
SB 1156, introduced by Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun, would prohibit the establishment of any sanctuary policies. The measure cleared the House Cities, Counties and Towns Committee on a 12-9 vote Friday morning.
At a January committee hearing, Black said the bill would not mandate any “affirmative” collaboration with ICE.
“However, what it does do is it prohibits them from affirmatively acting to impede the enforcement of federal immigration laws,” Black said. “Throughout law enforcement, there is sort of a customary interaction on all levels.”
Last year, ICE cited Chesterfield and Arlington counties as having policies that limit local law enforcement’s involvement with the agency. Arismendi said Republicans who back the legislation are contradicting their traditional support for the independence of local governments.
“Especially in the past couple of years, [ICE detention has] just revved up to the point that folks are even afraid of taking their kids to school,” Arismendi said, “or showing up to school to pick up their children because they don’t have the proper identification.”