According to a coalition of immigrant groups, a Fairfax County policy aimed at protecting undocumented immigrants from deportation is not being implemented aggressively enough. They also acknowledge that Fairfax has been more aggressive on the issue than other jurisdictions.
The county board passed a “Trust Policy” in January 2021 that prohibits Fairfax employees, including police officers, from cooperating with federal immigration agents, in an effort to alleviate the fear that many undocumented immigrants have of dealing with government officials.
Among other things, the sheriff’s office in the county has stopped cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests that detainees wanted for deportation be held beyond the end of their sentences.
County agencies do not ask residents about their immigration status before providing any services as part of the policy, which was already in place before it was formally adopted.
However, the rate of deportation cases that originate in Virginia’s most populous jurisdiction remains higher than in some large communities, at around 930 per 100,000 residents, according to a report by a coalition of Northern Virginia immigrant groups based on federal data compiled by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.
Nonetheless, deportation case rates in neighboring Prince William County are higher, at 1,019 per 100,000 residents, and in Alexandria, at 1,195 per 100,000 residents, according to the report. Neither company has a Trust Policy in place.
These figures include cases from various sources. Among them, the advocates list ICE arrests in the community, cases in which an undocumented immigrant is released from federal prison and enters the ICE orbit, cases transferred from another jurisdiction to Fairfax, and cases that are old and unresolved.
While it’s difficult to know whether the county’s higher rate of cases is related to flaws in the Trust Policy, the advocates argue that the county could be doing more to reduce deportations.
The group said in a letter to the Fairfax Board of Supervisors on Monday that the county police department is still putting undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation by including too much information in arrest reports, which are sent to a law enforcement database that federal immigration agents can search for potential cases.
The coalition also claimed that the county has yet to begin accepting identification cards provided by nonprofit organizations to undocumented immigrants — a provision of the Trust Policy aimed at people who do not have another form of identification.
“If the Board wishes to gain immigrants’ trust, particularly in the area of public safety,” the letter stated, “it must accelerate implementation of the Trust Policy.”
According to county officials, no agency in Fairfax, including the police department, interacts.
According to County Executive Bryan J. Hill, police reports provide some information about the person arrested but do not reveal specific addresses.
“We don’t put down the actual address; it’s limited to the block,” he said, adding that the county recently hired a director of immigration services whose job it is to better coordinate how the Trust Policy is implemented.
According to Jeffrey C. McKay (D), chair of the county board, the county takes the policy seriously because it wants all residents to be comfortable with county interactions, especially when solving a crime may rely on an undocumented witness.
“If our residents don’t trust the police, it jeopardizes public safety for everyone in the county,” McKay said.
Immigrant advocates are demanding that the county police continue to conceal arrest data, do more to eliminate police racial profiling, and reduce the number of arrests for public intoxication, which disproportionately affect communities of color.
With approximately seven deportation cases originating in Fairfax each day, the county should ensure that it is doing everything possible to protect undocumented immigrants, according to Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, director of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s immigrant advocacy program.
“Even if it only goes down to six,” he says, “it’s worth doing.”