A town hall with local Virginia lawmakers dissolved into chaos Saturday and police were called after Latino activists confronted Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington) about his previous consulting work for a private company that operates detention facilities for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The activists, who have dogged Lopez for the last six months, demanded Lopez apologize, promise to not do the work again and return the money he earned. As the meeting got more boisterous, security officers for Arlington’s Central Library appeared then called local police. When the verbal tumult continued, the sponsor of the event, Indivisible Arlington, cut the session short about 3 p.m.
The activists, organized as La ColectiVa, have objected to Lopez, who reported in state financial disclosures that he was paid more than $5,000 in 2014 and $10,000 in 2015 and 2016 by the Immigration Centers of America (ICA), which operates a detention center in Farmville, Va. They unsuccessfully attempted last December to persuade Democratic leadership in the Virginia House to strip Lopez of his role as the minority whip.
Between shouted questions and interruptions, Lopez told the meeting he is unable to discuss work with former clients because of a non-disclosure agreement.
“This has nothing to do with the work I’ve done in the General Assembly or with the values we share,” said the four-term lawmaker, according to a Facebook Live video that one of the activists posted online. Lopez did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The activists loudly disagreed that they share values with Lopez, whose father was a Venezuelan immigrant. When Arlington Police Officer Matt Owens entered the meeting and shook hands with Lopez, the activists scoffed.
“Our wives work together,” Owens said. “I obviously burned all my credibility.”
Irma Corado, a La ColectiVa member, said the group burst into the Indivisible Arlington meeting because it had been unable to set up a public meeting on their own with Lopez. She also accused him of trying to intimidate her after the meeting.
Legislators and witnesses called the event “chaos.”
“It’s one of the most stressful meetings I’ve been in my 21 years of office,” said state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington).
“They couldn’t just ask a question and leave it alone,” said state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria). “They had to shut the meeting down.”
State Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) said the gathering, which was supposed to be an update on the 2018 legislative session, was “distressing.”
“I’ve been [in office] for 27 years and no one has fought harder for immigrants or immigrant rights than Delegate Lopez,” she said.
Lopez said in the meeting that activists have called his house at all hours and intimidated his children, which Corado denied.