The Prince William-Manassas Regional Jail will no longer notify U.S. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement about the release of people detained at the jail for misdemeanors but will hold those charged with felonies for up to two hours past their release times if immigration officials have lodged detainers against them.
That was the compromise the jail board devised Wednesday when its members voted unanimously to direct jail staff to stop notifying ICE of the release of inmates charged with low level crimes. The decision to hold inmates charged with felonies who have ICE detainers for up two hours past their release times was approved in a separate, 5-2 vote, with two abstentions.
The new policies come in the wake of the end of the jail’s 287(g) agreement with ICE. The jail board unanimously agreed not to renew the agreement in June. The agreement, in place for more than a decade, allowed the jail to deputize several of its jail officers as ICE agents, giving them access to ICE databases to check the status of undocumented inmates.
The 287(g) program also allowed the jail to hold inmates with ICE detainers for up to two days past their release date so that ICE personnel could pick them up and transfer them to an ICE holding facility upon release. Culpeper County is the only locality in Virginia that currently holds a 287(g) agreement with ICE.
Law enforcement officers serving on the jail board were hesitant to support the motion to stop informing ICE about the release of people convicted of misdemeanor crimes, but some board members and immigration advocates say the new policy is a major step forward in improving relationships between the Hispanic community and local law enforcement after 287(g).
Jail board alternate Raul Torres, who also serves as the director of the county’s human rights office, introduced the motion. Torres said Thursday that the new policy is “step in the right direction.”
“I think it will be important for the Hispanic community and immigrant community to know what the situation going forward will be. And I think that will help gain trust in law enforcement from the community,” Torres said.
In 2020, 74% of ICE detainers were placed on inmates charged with misdemeanors
Ahead of the vote, jail staff provided the jail board with data regarding the types of crimes committed by inmates with ICE detainers. In fiscal year 2020, of the 578 inmates subject to ICE detainers, 428, or 74%, were for misdemeanors.
The types of misdemeanor charges listed for those with ICE detainers included driving without a license, drunk driving, simple assault and assault on a family member.
“I think that now, if you commit a misdemeanor and you are undocumented … you will be accountable to the local law. At the same time, you will not be turned over to ICE. That is significant because that means that for those type of offenses, families will not be separated,” Torres said.
The board unanimously supported the change, but Torres said that “it was not an easy vote in the sense that all law enforcement personnel [on the board] were wrestling with it.”
Luis Oyola, a community organizer at Legal Aid Justice Center, said the jail board is “taking another good step by ending most notifications to ICE.”
"Reimagining public safety means rethinking relationships with ICE,” Oyola said. “While the vote to honor detainers for two hours is concerning, it's encouraging that the [jail] board is still considering changes after ending 287g.”
Prince William County acting Police Chief Jarad Phelps, Manassas City Police Chief Doug Keen and jail board Chair Sheriff Glen Hill all voted in favor of holding inmates with detainers who are charged with felonies for up to two hours past their release date.
Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-31st, and Torres abstained from the vote. Torres said that he disagreed with the policy but abstained from voting as part of the compromise with law enforcement on the board.
Prince William County Chief Public Defender Tracey Lenox also voted against the measure. Lenox said that she was concerned that holding inmates past their release times could subject the jail to a potential lawsuit.
The jail was sued for this very reason in July, but the lawsuit was dropped within a few weeks. Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring (D) has issued legal opinions in 2015 and 2019 arguing that local officials do not have the legal authority to hold inmates beyond their release times or dates.
Jail staff during the meeting said that “the legal strength of the [ICE] detainer for holding someone after bond is made,” according to Herring’s legal opinion, “was not sufficient unless there was a 287(g) program.”
But that was an attorney general’s opinion, a jail staff member said, and “if the court were to take up the matter, that would take precedent over the attorney general’s opinion.”
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