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County Board approves policy limiting police cooperation with ICE despite criticism from activists

The Arlington County Board approved a policy limiting police cooperation with federal immigration agencies despite continued concern from activists.

In response to criticism on the proposal, dubbed the “Trust Policy,” the County Board updated some sections ahead of the unanimous vote at its meeting yesterday (Tuesday). However, criticism from immigration advocacy groups remains.

Around 60 regional and national organizations endorsed a letter by La ColectiVA, National Immigration Project and the Legal Aid Justice Center opposing the policy. A handful of members from those groups attended the Board meeting, holding up a banner saying, “#ICE out of Arlington.”

“We continue to be extremely concerned that the Trust Policy is woefully inadequate when placing limits on Arlington County law enforcement’s collaboration with ICE,” the letter stated.

The main change to the policy that passed was the addition of a compliance provision, which was the result of community feedback, County Board member Matt de Ferranti said.

The county attorney will review all relevant warrants, court orders and subpoenas received by county government offices, other than the police department, to determine if compliance is required, according to the policy.

Department and agency heads are to investigate all alleged violations of the policy, while the Community Oversight Board will investigate alleged policy violations by the police. Findings from the investigations will go to the County Board. The Board will also receive reports from the police and the Sheriff’s Office on law enforcement contact with ICE.

The board added the compliance section because it illustrated the role of the Board and the County Manager in ensuring the policy would be fairly and uniformly applied, de Ferranti said.

Language was also added prohibiting police officers from asking people for their immigration status. And the policy now requires officers to get an approval to notify federal immigration authorities if they suspect someone they’ve arrested was breaking federal immigration laws.

Police officers may only contact federal immigration authorities after getting approval from the on-duty watch commander or a supervisor ranked lieutenant or above, under circumstances laid out in the Arlington County Police Directive Manual 523.04.

The circumstances include instances when an undocumented immigrant is arrested on a violent felony, a non-violent felony if specific facts of the case establish a threat to community safety, terrorism or human trafficking, street gang offenses, as well as those who have previously committed a felony or been deported.

“It makes it clear that an officer has to go up the chain of command,” de Ferranti said.

However, the policy’s affirmation of the police directive “places no meaningful controls on [police officers’] actions,” according to the letter from advocacy groups. The groups also criticized the policy for not ensuring people can provide a non-standard ID to access services and benefits, as well as to prove their identity when stopped for offenses.

The groups wanted the Board to put pressure on the Sheriff’s Office, which operates the county jail, to stop notifying ICE when undocumented immigrants are released from jail. Such collaboration between law enforcement and ICE led to “a breakdown of trust” in the migrant community, according to the letter. From January 2019 to October 2020, ICE arrested 104 people released from the Arlington County jail because of the collaboration, the letter said.

Despite criticism, the Board believed the trust policy is a step for Arlington to become an inclusive community.

“This does not transform Arlington overnight,” said Board member Christian Dorsey, who worked with de Ferranti on the policy. “It’s a necessary step, a vital prerequisite.”

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