Amy Ashworth, the Democratic candidate for Prince William County commonwealth’s attorney, said Wednesday she believes the county’s agreement with U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement to identify undocumented immigrants booked at the local jail does not ensure residents’ safety.
The program, known as a 287(g) agreement, allows the jail to deputize its officers as ICE agents, access federal databases and hold inmates for 48 hours past their release date if ICE has issued a detainer for their custody. The jail will hold inmates an additional 48 hours to allow ICE to pick them up for further detention if the federal agency deems it necessary.
Ashworth, a former Prince William County prosecutor, worked in the commonwealth’s attorney’s special victims’ unit when the county’s ICE agreement went into effect in 2008.
During a Sept. 11 candidates’ forum in Manassas, Ashworth, who faces Republican Mike May in the Nov. 5 election, said the ICE agreement has had a negative impact on the community.
“We created an entire class of people, namely immigrants -- some legal, some not legal -- that were afraid to come forward and report crimes, and I knew this because they found their way into my office in the special victims’ unit through a family friend, through a lawyer, saying, ‘My child’s been sexually abused but I’m afraid if we report this to the police, they’re going to deport me,’” Ashworth said at the forum, which was hosted by the Prince William County Committee of 100.
Prince William and Culpeper counties are the only localities in Virginia that hold 287(g) agreements with ICE. The program has cost the county about $300,000 per year to maintain since 2012, according to previous reporting by Prince William Times.
“This is a program that has cost the taxpayers over $2.5 million and it does nothing to ensure your safety,” Ashworth said.
May, a trial lawyer, said he supports the county’s ICE agreement. May served on the Board of County Supervisors as Occoquan supervisor from 2007 to 2016 when the ICE agreement went into effect.
“Ultimately this is about making sure folks that commit crimes in the community are not returned back into the community when they can be sent to another place. I think it makes sense,” May said.
May said the agreement was only being talked about now “because folks want to nationalize local elections.”
“I do think there is more that the commonwealth’s attorney can do however in terms of outreach to communities, particularly immigrant communities to make sure they have no fear to talk and cooperate with the police department,” May said.
The ICE agreement was renewed for another year effective July 1, 2019, with approval from the Prince William-Manassas Regional Jail Board. The board will have vote to decide whether to renew the agreement again next summer.
The county’s commonwealth’s attorney election is Tuesday, Nov. 5.