Should Local Police and Sheriffs Aid ICE?

Apr 18, 2017

A protester holds up a sign during a Feb. 17th demonstration against ICE's tactics.
Credit Ted S. Warren / AP

Earlier this month, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested 82 people in northern Virginia, Maryland and D.C. over a five-day period, and the agency appears to be pushing for more assistance from local police and sheriffs.  The American Civil Liberties Union is pushing back – insisting cities and counties have no right or obligation to help.

Local chiefs of police and sheriffs in Virginia have been reluctant to get involved with the enforcement of immigration law, arguing that doing so would discourage undocumented people from cooperating with them to prevent and solve crimes, but the federal agency called ICE is attempting to embarrass them into cooperation.  In February, it published a list of local jails that refused to hold undocumented immigrants after they had served their time.  At the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, director Claire Gastanaga says that was the right thing to do.

“ICE’s requests are just exactly that. They’re requests. They don’t come with the authority of law, and you can’t hold someone in jail on a civil offense.” 

But that hasn’t dissuaded the sheriff of Fauquier County.  He has asked for authority from ICE to help enforce immigration laws.  Tthe sheriff has said helping ICE is not big deal, but Gastanaga wonders if he knows what cooperation will mean.

“When you enter into one of these agreements, you pay for the people the federal government is now going to use.  You pay for them to go to training, and then when the person comes back to work for you, you don’t supervise them in the context of immigration. They’re under the direction and control of immigration officers.”

And she wants people to know that when local police enforce federal laws, public safety could suffer.

“We think that sheriffs and local law enforcement and the state police should be spending their time doing the things that are related to keeping our communities safe, not volunteering to do the federal government’s job and enforcing a broken immigration system.”

The ACLU of Virginia has written to all sheriffs in the Commonwealth and to the association of chiefs of police, urging them not to cooperate with ICE.  It’s also contacted the governor, who said he did not intend to order assistance from state police.