Tensions between the Trump administration and Virginia’s largest jurisdiction erupted this week when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at the last minute barred federal immigration officials from participating in a discussion about arrests of undocumented migrants.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials — already frustrated by Fairfax Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid’s recent cancellation of an interagency agreement that kept people wanted for deportation in jail past their release dates — sat fuming in the audience Tuesday during what was supposed to be a routine discussion about law enforcement coordination.
Several members of the Board of Supervisors congratulated Kincaid on her decision, and asked her and county Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. to make sure ICE agents aren’t easily able to arrest anyone who isn’t already the target of a criminal investigation.
“This is America, and you’re censoring a federal law enforcement agency and a partner?” said Barbara M. Gonzalez, the assistant director of an ICE office created by the Trump administration to help victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and legal permanent residents.
“They didn’t want to listen to us,” said Gonzalez, who was supposed to participate in the discussion but found she had been removed from the list of participants. “They didn’t want to hear what we have to say because what we had to give out today was facts.”
The county meeting took place amid rising friction across the country over immigration, with the Trump administration recently suing California over its “sanctuary” policies and Virginia joining the District, Maryland and 15 other states in a bid to block the administration from adding a question about immigration status to the 2020 Census.
In Fairfax, immigration activists have pressured county officials to more actively resist efforts by the Trump administration to ramp up deportations.
Earlier this year, Kincaid notified ICE that as of May 23, she intends to end a 2012 agreement that has kept inmates wanted for deportation in the county jail for up to 48 hours after their sentences end — a move the administration criticized.
On Tuesday, Kincaid said her office still cooperates with ICE on criminal investigations involving undocumented immigrants.
“After 31 years of law enforcement experience, I have not and would never make a decision that would put our county’s public safety at risk,” the sheriff told the board.
Local immigration activists saw the public safety committee meeting as another battleground.
With the county’s renewed gang problem set to be part of the discussion, some groups called board Chairman Sharon Bulova (D-At Large) to complain that the participation of Gonzalez’s unit would wrongly imply that all gang members are in the country illegally. Others showed up to the meeting with signs reading “Keep ICE out of Fairfax.”
“Conflating all immigrants with criminals is not rhetoric that we think is appropriate for Fairfax County or any county or city in the nation,” said Michelle LaRue, director of CASA in Virginia, which sought unsuccessfully to participate in the discussion.
Supervisor John C. Cook (R-Braddock), who chairs the committee, said he tried to persuade ICE to include someone other than Gonzalez.
“The response we got from them was: ‘If you don’t let her speak, none of us are going to speak,’ ” Cook said, referring to ICE. An ICE spokesman confirmed Cook’s account but said the agency learned of the change only about 20 minutes before the meeting.
As the discussion began, several members of the Democratic-controlled board appeared to back the decision to leave out ICE altogether.
But they nonetheless criticized the agency for collateral arrests — in which someone is picked up by an ICE agent during an unrelated investigation.
At one point, Bulova directed a complaint to the ICE officials in the audience, saying the agency sows confusion in immigrant communities over the role of local police when federal agents show up to arrest someone with “Police” printed on their shirts and jackets.
Gonzalez, calling out from the audience, tried to explain that such an action is a safety precaution for agents in the field.
“If you’d let us talk, we can clear up a lot of the misinformation we’re hearing,” she said.
“I’ve got the floor,” Bulova replied.
Pat Herrity (R-Springfield), who argued for allowing ICE to participate, looked visibly angry.
“It is a sad day in Fairfax County when we can’t have an open, honest discussion,” he said.