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Arlington County on Immigration: ‘Welcoming’ But Not a ‘Sanctuary Jurisdiction’

by Tim Regan — March 1, 2017 at 11:35 am 0

Though Arlington County welcomes people of all legal statuses, it can’t protect them from federal immigration enforcement.

That’s the gist of what Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz said during a County Board meeting this week. Schwartz announced the launch of a new website aimed at answering many of the questions residents have had in the wake of recent uncertainty over immigration enforcement across the U.S.

The website, which is available in English and Spanish, includes a long list of frequently asked questions on immigration, public safety, education and community resources. County officials also launched an online resource for immigrants seeking assistance, legal aid and other services.

“I believe one of our primary responsibilities is to provide as much information and as much certainty to our residents in these very uncertain times, and we will continue to do so,” Schwartz said during the meeting.

First and foremost, the county seeks to answer several questions regarding its status as a “sanctuary jurisdiction,” Schwartz said.

“We have heard from many residents asking about our status as a sanctuary,” he said. “We have not used the term sanctuary or sanctuary city to define Arlington County. We believe that using that term could potentially mislead people into believing that Arlington County is able to shield them from immigration enforcement actions by the federal government.”

Schwartz said that the Arlington County Police Department will not act to enforce federal immigration law, and that the county doesn’t participate in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program that gives local and state governments the power to deputize police for immigration enforcement.

“I want to reinforce that ACPD will continue our long history of community policing, working closely with our residents to reduce and prevent crime and improve the quality of live of all Arlington’s residents, all of Arlington’s visitors and businesses, regardless of their immigration status,” Schwartz said. “These policies have been central to creating the safety and security we enjoy in Arlington.”

Though ACPD officers may accompany federal agents during arrests, their role will be to “maintain the safety and security of the public,” he said. ACPD also assists in executing federal criminal warrants, though ICE primarily conducts removals outside of the criminal judicial process.

“Any ACPD involvement in ICE actions is limited to those actions where a criminal warrant exists for the apprehension of a specific individual or individuals and there is a legitimate local public safety concern,” says the county website. “ACPD will cooperate to the fullest extent with any federal, state or local law enforcement agency, including ICE, requesting assistance with executing a criminal warrant within Arlington County.”

(Arlington County Police Chief Jay Farr also clarified the department’s role in a WERA interview last month.)

Additionally, Schwartz said he met with ICE officials based in the agency’s D.C. area field office, who told him they are “not doing wide immigration sweeps or immigration raids, but are focusing solely on targeted actions on specific individuals.”

Under existing ICE policy, enforcement is limited at churches, schools, medical facilities and other “sensitive” locations. Still, it would be an understatement to say Arlington residents are worried about the possibility of such actions, and with good reason. ICE agents have reportedly picked up undocumented immigrants at “sensitive” locations across the country, including at a church and homeless shelter in nearby Fairfax County.

“This is a difficult time that requires us to come together as a community to embrace our strengths of diversity and inclusion,” Schwartz said. “We ask that residents continue to work with each other to support our friends and neighbors.”

Locals who have questions or suggestions are encouraged to email the county at [email protected].

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