Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne made a presentation about city and regional U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement policies during the March 20 city council legislative session. His remarks were intended to clarify Alexandria’s position after the topic was raised during the public comment part of the March 17 public hearing.
The discussion followed Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid announcing in January that her office would end its agreement with ICE to hold inmates who are in danger of deportation beyond their criminal sentences.
At the March public hearing, some city residents encouraged the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office to follow suit. They said the office should require a judicial warrant before turning over a prisoner. Speakers also requested the termination of the city’s intergovernmental agreement with the U.S. Marshals Office to hold federal prisoners, which ICE is also able to utilize.
“There’s no federal law that requires local jails to honor administrative warrants. In fact, Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid and Arlington County Sheriff Beth Arthur have decided if ICE wants them to prolong the detainment of an individual in their jurisdiction, ICE needs to bring a judicial warrant to them, so there is precedent,” Maya Taylor said at the public hearing.
“We should urge Sheriff Dana Lawhorne to end this stance. ICE has been coming into communities across the nation and tearing families apart. They are, honestly unhinged and it’s wrong,” another speaker, Alex Howe, said at the hearing.
Lawhorne responded to these requests at the meeting, saying Fairfax County’s decision changes little when it
comes to the number of people released to ICE annually.
In addition, Lawhorne said his office already requires an arrest warrant, or an I-200, rather than an I-247 before turning over prisoners held in the city to ICE.
“Why aren’t you like Fairfax and Arlington? Here’s the answer: Fairfax and Arlington both turn over their
inmates to ICE when they receive a request. There’s differences. Some say ‘just give us a detainer, tell us you want them and we’ll turn them over.’ I’ll leave it up to them on what they require to turn over someone to ICE. What I can tell you is they don’t require the I-200. I require the I-200. I want something that says you’ve done some investigative work and it’s based on probable cause,” Lawhorne said.
Lawhorne said in his presentation the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office turned over 111 inmates to ICE throughout 2017, in comparison to Fairfax County’s 437 and Arlington’s 155. Lawhorne said Fairfax County’s agreement termination wouldn’t reduce the number of individuals it turns over to ICE.
“The notion that because of the lack of the judicial warrant that they did not turn over people to ICE is not true,” Lawhorne said. “They turned them over, plain and simple.”
Lawhorne, as part of the presentation, also talked about why the 111 inmates turned over to ICE by the office in 2017 were arrested and what happened following their ICE detainment. The office said, of the 111 inmates, 32 were arrested for DWIs and eleven were arrested for being drunk in public. The other inmates’ crimes weren’t specified, but were described as including property crimes, crimes against minors and violent crimes.
As of early 2018, the office said 10 of the inmates
were still in ICE custody, eight were arrested again in Alexandria, 26 appeared in Alexandria court after being released to ICE, two were arrested in other jurisdictions
following their Alexandria arrest, one was released by ICE and the remaining 64 were of undetermined status.
Lawhorne said his office has received some pushback for turning individuals over to ICE who have been arrested for a drunk in public charge.
“The drunk in publics are committed to jail because they’re drunk, but we, by law, have to check [their immigration status]. ICE can come back and say ‘We want that drunk’ and people say that’s terrible. I go, ‘Look, you don’t know why they want that person.’ A lot of people who are wanted for some very serious things across this country are caught because they got drunk and the cops caught them and they ran a check on them and that’s how they detected them,” Lawhorne said.
Lawhorne, in addition, said little would come from the city terminating its contract with the U.S. Marshals Office.
“If I terminate the contract, if I don’t allow ICE to piggyback, what happens? Where do they go? They go to Farmville, which is three hours away,” Lawhorne said.
“According to the contract, I have to meet accreditation standards. … They’re in a safe facility where they’re being cared for.”
City councilors expressed varying concerns, including about what Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office decision changed and humanitarian issues.
Lawhorne said, in the end, he intends to continue following federal law as it stands.
“What I don’t really get in this debate and discussion is nobody, even the people writing to you or posting this on their website, have pointed me to a law that the federal law is no good,” Lawhorne said. “ … Nobody has taken it off the board. Now you want to interpret whether or not we should believe in it and that’s a whole different conversation.”
Councilor Paul Smedberg expressed concerns about the way in which the conversation about city ICE policies was brought up.
“I understand the sensitivity of this issue, given everything going on around immigration. Having both sides is really helpful, but I have to say, from the process perspective, how we got here and what happened on Saturday, given the importance of this issue [is concerning]. … For the initial discussion to take place without the main party here really wasn’t helpful. I heard from a couple of people over the weekend who happened to be watching and thought immediately we had some serious issue here,” Smedberg said.
Mayor Allison Silberberg, however, disagreed with the idea of limits on the open mic period.
“With the whole premise of an open mic, we don’t always know what’s coming up and that’s democracy,” Silberberg said.
Councilor Willie Bailey said that while he felt strongly about keeping immigrant families together, no one on council intended to call the sheriff’s office’s integrity into question.
“We hear about breaking up families. If there’s anything I can do about that, I want to do that. We’re going to do all we can so that’s not happening. We received emails that we were questioning the integrity of the sheriff’s office, and I want to say no, we’re not questioning the integrity by any means,” Bailey said.
Lawhorne said he didn’t feel as though council had questioned him, but, rather, wanted the opportunity to address potential miscommunication.
“What bothered me is communication you were getting from people we have spent an enormous amount of time with. They’re mad at me because I wouldn’t meet with them. … This is not a new issue – just because you come at me with a new angle doesn’t make it right. It’s your opinion,” Lawhorne said. “ … It’s too much misinformation. No matter how many times you say it, it gets twisted.”
Councilor Del Pepper said, though she initially felt blindsided by the conversation, she felt she had a better understanding after Lawhorne’s presentation.
“This is Alexandria – everybody comes and has something to say,” Pepper said. “I think what’s good is that we got both sides, and we can figure it out.”
Vice Mayor Justin Wilson said he appreciated the conversation and anticipates it continuing.
“There’s a humanitarian approach to deal with these issues. I certainly appreciate the response to what we are seeing in neighboring jurisdictions,” Wilson said. “These are very, very difficult issues for local government. Everyone is trying to figure out the right approach in broaching the politics of it all. It’s a challenge for us all. I appreciate his approach on this, and I’m sure the dialogue will continue. It does seem to me where there’s legal murkiness, that’s up to the [attorney general] and the courts.”