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Fairfax County adopts policy barring cooperation with federal immigration agents

Jeff C. McKay (D-At Large), chair of Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors, in 2019. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Fairfax County on Tuesday formally adopted a long-standing practice of prohibiting county employees from cooperating with federal immigration agents — a step aimed at addressing reports that some undocumented immigrants in the county have avoided seeking help during the coronavirus pandemic, out of fear of being deported.

The “Trust Policy,” approved by the county’s Board of Supervisors on a 9-to-1 vote, prohibits county employees from sharing or seeking information about the immigration status of a county resident unless that action is mandated by a state or federal law, a court order or a judicial warrant.

“We need to be very clear about what our expectations are,” said board Chairman Jeff C. McKay (D-At Large), who co-sponsored the policy with Supervisors Dalia A. Palchik (D-Providence) and John W. Foust (D-Dranesville). “Immigration enforcement is done by others.”

The policy builds on a step taken by the county police department last summer that bars officers from asking about or disclosing a person’s immigration status or giving information to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that can be used to locate someone targeted for deportation.

County officials said anxieties over deportation have kept some residents from seeking county services meant to help those who have been affected by the pandemic.

Nearly 58,000 Fairfax residents have been infected by the coronavirus, a third of them Latino, according to the county health department. Meanwhile, office custodians, restaurant employees and construction workers — many of whom are undocumented — have been put out of work by the economic downturn triggered by state pandemic restrictions.

“There are folks in our community who are fearful and they are not willing to come forward and ask for help, because they think they’re going to put themselves in jeopardy,” said Supervisor Rodney L. Lusk (D-Lee).

Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) cast the sole dissenting vote. He said his opposition was based on a portion of the policy that allows county employees to accept nongovernment identifications while providing services, which Herrity called a potential liability risk to the county.

Immigrant advocates, who pushed for the new policy in response to more-aggressive immigration enforcement under President Donald Trump, lauded the county board’s action.

“For four years, we have marched, spoken out and stood up for our rights as immigrants, and now we can finally breathe easier,” Luis Aguilar, Virginia state director of the CASA immigrant advocacy group, said in a statement.