The Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted along party lines early Wednesday morning to appoint three new citizen members to the Prince William-Manassas regional jail board, setting up a debate over whether the jail board will renew the county’s 287(g) agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The board appointed Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-31st, Prince William NAACP Chair Cozy Bailey and defense attorney Tracy Lenox to the jail board on 5-3 vote, with all five Democrats on the board voting in favor of the appointments and all three Republicans voting against them.
The 287(g) agreement allows ICE to deputize some of the jail officers as ICE agents, giving them access to federal databases and allowing them to facilitate immigration detainers to hold inmates for up to 48 hours past their release date if ICE requests to take them into custody.
Prince William and Culpeper counties are the only localities in Virginia that currently hold 287(g) agreements with ICE.
Guzman has been a critical of the county’s 287(g) agreement with ICE and said Wednesday she will "definitely vote to let it expire."
Guzman, herself an immigrant from Peru, said she believes the 287(g) agreement prevents some immigrant residents from cooperating with police, is an unnecessary use of local tax dollars and has resulted in some residents being deported for non-violent crimes, such driving without driver’s licenses, which are not currently available to some immigrants in Virginia.
State lawmakers changed the law earlier this year to allow undocumented residents to drive legally with driver’s privilege cards, which take effect next year.
“How can you label an individual a criminal who is only trying to go to work to support their families? Are these people criminals? … There have been many that have been deported for that reason,” Guzman said.
Bailey said Wednesday he has been researching the county’s 287(g) agreement but does not yet want to say whether it should stay or go.
“When the time comes for me to decide, I’ll give my opinion and make my position known,” Bailey said.
Bailey, a retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, is the husband of Supervisor Andrea Bailey, D-Potomac. He serves on Gov. Ralph Northam’s African American Advisory board and is chairman of the Prince William County Police Department’s Citizen Advisory Board. He said has a brother and close friends who are police officers and has “a healthy respect for law enforcement.”
Lenox also declined to say whether she will vote to end the agreement but issued this statement: “My experience as a legal professional lead me to question the value and advisability of 287(g), but I also believe the [jail] board needs a thoughtful and thorough discussion of the policy’s merits and detriments. I’m looking forward to having that discussion and others concerning ADC policy with my fellow board members.”
The 11-member jail board must decide before July 1 whether it will renew the county’s ICE agreement. The next jail board meeting is set to take place on June 17.
Currently serving on the jail board are three elected officials: Sheriff Glen Hill (R), Commonwealth’s Attorney Amy Ashworth (D) and Clerk of the Circuit Court Jacqueline Smith (D); as well as three county staffers: County Executive Chris Martino, Director of Office of Criminal Justice Services Steven Austin and Police Chief Barry Barnard. The City of Manassas City Council can appoint two citizen members but currently has only one serving, Lisa Climer, whose term expires in 2024.
Manassas City Councilman Mark Wolfe said Wednesday the council has not recently discussed appointing another member to the board.
The vote to appoint the new members came at the end of a 12-hour meeting that included comments from about 80 residents, many of whom spoke via remote video connections. About 100 supporters of the 287(g) agreement staged a rally outside the McCoart Administration Building prior to the 2 p.m. meeting.
Speakers at the rally included former acting ICE director and Fox News contributor Thomas Homan, as well as Tom Speciale, a Woodbridge resident vying for the Republican nomination to challenge Sen. Mark Warner (D).
Homan said there isn’t anything wrong “with law enforcement working with law enforcement” to keep people safe. “There’s no downside on the sheriff working with ICE. They’re already locked up in the jail, ICE just wants access to that jail cell,” he said.
Board divided on appointments, ICE agreement
Republican and Democratic supervisors were split over the jail board appointments, and about the whether the jail board should renew the ICE agreement. The board’s three Republicans said they are in favor of keeping the agreement and preferred to keep the jail board’s current citizen members in place.
Supervisor Yesli Vega, R-Coles, a Prince William Sheriff’s deputy, said she had seen the program up close and could vouch for its success.
“At the end of the day, we are talking about illegal aliens that have been arrested for committing a crime,” Vega said.
Vega noted that some individuals have been swept up “unfairly” under the program. But, she said, the program aids law enforcement in investigating and removing many criminals who have committed serious violent crimes both in the United States and in their home countries.
“There are people who’ve been swept through 287(g) for lesser crimes,” Vega said.
Vega and Supervisors Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, and Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, requested a delay in the appointments so more residents could weigh in on the issue. Vega said several of the appointees made by Democratic supervisors had been selected to end the ICE agreement.
“I don’t believe these nominees have the best interest of everyone in mind,” Vega said. “They've been very vocal in their opposition to this program... and their goal is to get rid of it.”
Democrats on the board of supervisors, who hold a 5-3 majority, campaigned on ending the 287(g) agreement during the 2019 election cycle.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Supervisor Margaret Angela Franklin, D-Woodbridge, who represents a district where Latinos and Hispanic make up more than 30% of the population, said the 287(g) agreement does not bring the community together.
Franklin, who works as a Democratic staffer on Capitol Hill, said she had seen “families ripped apart” by the 287(g) program, and that she had personally “been on the phone with ICE agents asking them to stop certain deportations, some that were successful and others that were not.”
“I’ve seen this program sweep in people that I thought was incredibly unfair. I’ve seen what this program has done to separate families,” Franklin said. “I’ve seen 287(g) up close and personal. It’s very controversial, and I know why.”
Supervisor Victor Angry, D-Neabsco, said he doesn’t know whether the county’s ICE agreement should stay in place or not, but that it was a decision that needed to be made by the jail board and not the board of supervisors. Angry added it is time to discuss whether the county should end the agreement, or continue it.
“We should have that discussion. I don’t know if it should stay in place or if it should go,” Angry said. “I’m not about stacking the deck one way to get rid of something. I want intelligent, smart and professional people in the room to have that discussion.”
Sheriff, jail superintendent defend 287(g)
Hill and jail Superintendent Pete Meletis spoke favorably of the ICE agreement, saying it allows insight into inmates’ criminal records in their native countries.
Hill has been a supporter of the ICE agreement since he signed onto the program in 2008 and said it helps local law enforcement investigate criminal activity in the county.
Hill also said he is concerned that some of the jail board picks were selected with the intent of ending the 287(g) agreement.
Hill said he wants to “avoid” a politically charged jail board. Hill added that he considered the 287(g) agreement a bipartisan agreement “because we worked with Democrats in the White House and Republicans.”
“It appears to me that the appointments are being made for political reasons,” Hill said. “To me, this is kind of awful because in my 38 years of being associated with the [jail], I’ve never seen appointments being made for a specific reason.”
Hill said the ICE agreement is one of many successful programs run by the jail board, and that supervisors may be overlooking the jail board’s programming by focusing on the ICE agreement. Hill said it “almost seems like no one cares about all the other things we have done for inmates and our community.”
Meletis told the board he considers the ICE agreement as “a positive” based on “the results that we have seen and the criminals that we’ve processed.”
All inmates booked into the jail are screened through the 287(g) program. The jail places between 30 to 50 ICE detainers per month on undocumented jail inmates, Meletis said.
Meletis added that the jail is authorized to have four ICE-trained officers in the jail. If the program were eliminated, four staff members could be cut, saving the jail about $350,000 in annual costs.
Asked whether there are any other federal programs at the jail supported by local funding, Meletis said, “No.”
Board Chair Ann Wheeler, D-At Large, pressed Hill and Meletis on the necessity of the ICE agreement and how other Virginia counties maintain safe communities without partnering with ICE.
“Other places have decent, low crime rates and safe communities. How do they achieve that without this program?” Wheeler asked.
When Meletis said he didn’t know, Wheeler directed the question to Hill: “So if 287(g) went away, we’d still have a safe community?”
“I can tell you that law enforcement’s goal is always to have a safe community,” Hill said.
Detractors call 287(g) ‘racist,’ supporters say it promotes safety
During public comment time, which lasted about four hours, 287(g) detractors called the program racist and said it hurts communities and separates families. Supporters said the program promotes public safety by allowing the federal government to work with local law enforcement.
Alicia Gloss, a Coles District resident, said the jail board members should be chosen based on law enforcement experience and not because of their stance on the county jail’s contract with ICE.
“These nominees don’t have law enforcement experience, why are we asking them to be on the jail board?” Gloss said.
Opponents of the ICE agreement said it sows distrust between Prince William law enforcement and the county’s Latino residents, who make up about 25% of the county’s population.
Lenka Mendoza, a Neabsco resident and a leader at the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations, said 287(g) has had a negative impact on both U.S. citizens and non-citizens who are afraid that reporting a crime will lead to questions about their immigration status.
“People that look like me -- people of color -- are afraid to report crimes to the police,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza said the Latino community needs “to have a voice on the jail board,” and for that reason she said she supports Guzman’s appointment “because she knows the community.”
Evelin Urrutia, a Prince William County resident and executive director of Tenants and Workers United, a Northern Virginia organization that advocates for working-class people in communities of color, said the 287(g) program is a “voluntary program” that harms the Latino community and “results in family separation.”
“Enforcing federal immigration laws should not be a local policy,” Urrutia said.
Jill Palermo contributed to this report. Reach Daniel Berti at email@example.com