Arlington, VA

Arlington officials were given two options for opting out of the Secure Communities immigration enforcement program today, neither of which they liked.

Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan, Police Chief Doug Scott and Sheriff Beth Arthur met with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to find out how communities can withdraw from the program, which has drawn fire from immigrant rights advocates.

The meeting followed the county board’s unanimous September vote to opt-out of Secure Communities, and statements to the press from ICE Director John Morton, saying such a withdrawal was impossible.

The meeting seemed to add weight to Morton’s assertion.

“ICE stated clearly — and with finality — that local activated communities do not have the option of withholding information from the program, although communities can opt not to learn the results of immigration queries,” Donnellan wrote in a memo to county board members following the meeting.

“ICE stated that Secure Communities is a federal information-sharing program — which links two federal fingerprint databases,” Donnellan wrote. “The program does not require state and local law enforcement to partner with ICE in enforcing federal law. State and local law enforcement do not have any role in enforcing immigration law.”

The agency gave Arlington two options for opting out of the program. The first option was to opt-out of receiving the results of ICE’s database inquiry.

That “would result in Arlington law enforcement not receiving information that could be crucial to effective law enforcement, such as the arrestee’s identity, known aliases, and criminal history,” Donnellan wrote, rejecting the option.

The second option would be to prevent fingerprints from being submitted to the joint FBI/ICE databases. That’s not possible under Virginia law, which requires localities to submit fingerprints to Virginia State Police, which in turn check the prints against the national database.

Besides, Donnellan writes, “the County has never and will not consider this because utilizing the national criminal database is a public safety necessity to help us identify dangerous criminals.”

As for what the county will do next, Donnellan mentioned the possibility of holding a community meeting with ICE officials. Other than that, the question was left open-ended.

“ICE agreed to continue the dialogue with us and we look forward to working them to develop solutions that will enable federal authorities and local public safety officers to fulfill their respective missions without forsaking either,” she wrote.

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