Jonathan Krall is a member of the steering committee of Grassroots Alexandria.
In 2017, we at Grassroots Alexandria reached out to our local sheriff to ask about his cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. As activists working with allies in Tenants and Workers United, we thought we were making a small request. We asked our sheriff to use his discretion to stop transferring people from our jail to ICE without a proper legal warrant issued by a judge.
However, a new report from Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse shows that local jails are the primary source of ICE detainees. Forty-one percent of ICE detainees nationwide come from local jails; 80 percent of ICE detainees from Alexandria are taken from the sheriff’s office. When it comes to immigration enforcement in Alexandria, our local jail isn’t a small thing; it’s the main thing.
In the face of an unresponsive White House, the local jail is the one place where our local leaders can exert control over ICE. Fortunately, this is exactly where we should exert control. According to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Sheriff Dana Lawhorne transferred 270 inmates to ICE, out of a total of 335 people detained between October 2014 and May 2018. Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse shows that the transfer rate significantly increased in 2017 over previous years.
One might imagine that detainees taken from local jails are “bad dudes,” but the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse report matches what our local sheriff has told us: Most people transferred to ICE are transferred while waiting (or wishing) to be bailed out. Nationwide, 79 percent of detainees transferred to ICE from jails were either not convicted (58 percent) or convicted of a minor offense (21 percent). Anyone with experience of “driving while black” or “walking while brown” knows how easy it is for a minor offense to escalate to an arrest. When we aggressively police ethnic communities, we are working for ICE.
Nationwide, we have protested the separation of families at the border. The fact remains, however, that when one of our neighbors is detained, a family is torn apart. Our allies at Tenants and Workers United tell us they have seen an increase in families that are struggling to locate a loved one who has been detained by ICE by way of the Alexandria sheriff.
We all know our immigration system is broken. Business and political leaders formerly tolerated this broken system because the population increase and underpaid labor pumped up the economy. After many years, however, our undocumented neighbors and their families have woven themselves into our city. They are our friends, co-workers and neighbors. We should not give them up without a fight.
As we enjoy living and working in this beautiful city, we see the “Kindness” and “Reject Hate” signs. If those mean anything at all, we will stand together to protect our neighbors. It is time for Alexandrians to write to the City Council and to the sheriff. It is time for individuals, civic organizations, faith-based groups and the Alexandria City Council to direct Lawhorne to use discretion for Alexandria instead of for ICE.
In our local communities, we have more power over ICE than we previously realized. Let’s use it.