The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Advocacy groups say Fairfax is not doing enough to curb deportations

An ICE officer watches “dreamers” while they protest deportations in front of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services building in Fairfax in 2019. (Marlon Correa /The Washington Post)
4 min

A Fairfax County policy aimed at protecting undocumented immigrants from deportation is not being implemented aggressively enough, a coalition of immigrant advocacy groups said — although they also acknowledge that Fairfax has been more aggressive than other jurisdictions on the issue.

In January 2021, the county board adopted a “Trust Policy” that prohibits Fairfax employees — including police officers — from cooperating with federal immigration agents, a move meant to counter the fear that many undocumented immigrants have of dealing with government officials.

Among other things, the county’s sheriff’s office has stopped cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to hold inmates wanted for deportation beyond their sentences.

As part of the policy, much of which was already in practice before it was formally adopted, county agencies also don’t ask residents about immigration status before providing any services.

But the rate of deportation cases that originate in Virginia’s most populous jurisdiction is still higher than some large communities, at about 930 per 100,000 residents, according to a report by a coalition of immigrant advocacy groups in Northern Virginia using federal data compiled by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

From border town to ‘border town,’ bused migrants seek new lives in D.C. area

Still, the deportation case rates are even higher in neighboring Prince William County, at 1,019 per 100,000 residents, and Alexandria, at 1,195 per 100,000 residents, according to the report. Neither has a similar Trust Policy in place.

Those rates include cases from a variety of sources. Among them: ICE arrests in the community, cases where an undocumented immigrant is released from federal prison and enters the ICE orbit, cases that are transferred from another jurisdiction to Fairfax and cases that are old and have not been resolved, the advocates say.

While it’s hard to know whether the higher rate of cases in the county has anything to do with shortcomings in the Trust Policy, the advocates said, the group nonetheless argued that the county could be doing more to stem deportations.

In a letter sent Monday to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, the group which includes the ACLU People Power Fairfax, Legal Aid Justice Center and ACLU of Virginia said that the county police department is still leaving undocumented immigrants susceptible to deportation by including too much information in its arrest reports, which go to a law enforcement database that federal immigration agents can mine for potential cases.

The coalition also said the county has not yet begun accepting identification cards provided by nonprofits to undocumented immigrants — a provision of the Trust Policy geared toward individuals without another form of ID.

“If the Board wishes to gain immigrants’ trust, particularly in the area of public safety, it must jump-start implementation of the Trust Policy,” the letter said.

County officials said that no agency in Fairfax, including the police department, interacts with ICE. The county did not immediately have a response on whether it is accepting nonprofit identification cards.

Police reports offer some details about the person being arrested but do not reveal exact addresses, County Executive Bryan Hill said.

“It’s limited to the block; we don’t put down the actual address,” he said, adding that the county recently hired a director of immigration services whose job is to better coordinate how the Trust Policy is implemented.

Jeffrey C. McKay (D), chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said the county takes the policy seriously because it wants all residents to be comfortable with county interactions, particularly in instances where solving a crime may depend on a witness who is undocumented.

“If our residents do not trust the police, it undermines public safety for all county residents,” McKay said.

The immigrant advocates are demanding that the county police further conceal arrest data, do more to eliminate racial profiling by police and reduce the number of arrests for public drunkenness, which disproportionately affect communities of color.

And with about seven deportation cases originating in Fairfax per day, the county should ensure that it is doing everything it can to protect undocumented immigrants, said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, director of the immigrant advocacy program for the Legal Aid Justice Center.

“Even if it just goes down to six, it’s worth doing,” he said.