Should Undocumented Suspects Be Held Without a Warrant? Candidates for Governor Disagree

Sep 8, 2017

Credit AP Photo / Steve Helber

Virginia may not have any local governments that are willing to defy federal immigration law. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the commonwealth doesn’t have any sanctuary cities, depending on how that term is defined. And, as Michael Pope reports, the debate has become a flashpoint in the race for governor.

Democrat Ralph Northam says local jails across Virginia should avoid holding suspects beyond their release date — even if federal immigration officials issue a detainer request. If they really wanted the suspect, Northam says, they’d get a warrant. Republican Ed Gillespie says localities should not be thumbing their noses at the federal government and releasing criminals back onto the streets if federal officials have made a legitimate request. 

“They have to decide whether or not they want to get used as a means to someone else’s political end.”

That’s Christian Matheis at Virginia Tech. 

“The use of immigration as a piece of political leverage is ethically questionable, legally risky, and I think the agencies actually have a lot more power than they may feel initially to say no.”

Take Chesterfield County for example. The sheriff there, who has endorsed Gillespie, says he will not hold suspects beyond their release date —even if Immigration and Customs Enforcement issues a detainer request. Virginia legal expert Rich Kelsey says local law-enforcement officials who take a hard line on immigration are opening themselves up to legal jeopardy if they hold suspects without a warrant.

“That policy would put a local law enforcement official in jeopardy if he or she followed it because you can’t hold a person any longer than the court requires him to be hold on the local charge.”

On the campaign trail, Northam has been clear that nobody should be held without a warrant. Gillespie says he’s closely monitoring a number of courts that are considering the reach ICE detainers.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.