Arlington, VA

Virginia-based immigrant rights organization La ColectiVA is calling on Arlington County officials to put a stop to information-sharing between local law enforcement and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

La ColectiVA said the effort comes after learning of multiple cases in which migrant community members have been arrested in Arlington and then transferred to ICE for deportation proceedings. Through public records requests, La ColectiVA found that the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office handed those in local law enforcement custody over to ICE more than 100 times in 22 months.

“This collaboration between violent state agencies violates the dignity of our loved ones and endangers our neighbors and families who are at risk,” the organization said in a statement.

From January 2019 to October 2020, the sheriff’s office — which runs the county jail — turned 104 inmates over to ICE, upon the federal agency’s request, while releasing 21 people despite an ICE detainer. In a fact sheet providing an overview of the data, the organization highlighted local policies governing work with ICE.

The Arlington County Police Department and the sheriff’s office confirmed La ColectiVA’s findings and data with ARLnow.

The sheriff’s office does not honor ICE requests — to detain a person for up to 48 hours — unless the detainer is signed by a judge, ACSO spokeswoman Maj. Tara Johnson said. Sheriff’s office employees are instructed to notify ICE when someone with a signed detainer request is being released from jail.

“If the individual has a release date, we can typically give [ICE] 48 hours notice of the person’s release,” Johnson said in an email. “In a bond situation, we would notify ICE that the person has posted bond and they have two hours to pick them up or they will be released.”

La ColectiVA said in one instance, one person was transferred from the Arlington jail to ICE after their family had already paid bail for their release.

Without knowing the specific case, Johnson said “it’s hard to answer but this [scenario] is possible,” She said the office is reviewing its policies, including its ICE policy, as part of an annual review.

The police department also transfers people to ICE custody, including an instance when an officer called the agency after “a fender bender,” La ColectiVA said.

“These are only two examples of policies and practices that create a chilling effect on many community members, inflicting fear and deterring individuals from participating in many community and government functions,” the organization said.

Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage connected the incident LaColectiVA cited to one that occurred in August 2019. Police responded to a vehicle crash at Columbia Pike and S. Buchanan Street, where they found one of the drivers did not have a license. When he provided identifying documents, officers conducted a routine check because they suspected the documents looked fake, Savage said in an email.

The background check identified the person as a deported felon, so police contacted ICE and he was taken into custody, she said.

Police officers can only notify ICE of a possibly undocumented person under five circumstances, including if the department’s gang unit confirms the person is suspected of participating in criminal street gang activity, Savage said.

“We know that officers will abuse their discretion and put community members at risk,” La ColectiVA asserted.

In response, Savage said law enforcement “has not and will not monitor, detain, interview, or investigate a person solely for the purpose of determining their immigration status.” She said that the police department works with the community to ensure people know that they can utilize police services, including reporting crimes, without worrying about officers checking their immigration status.

In a statement, County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said that over the last year the Board has discussed individual cases causing “real concern” with La ColectiVA and other organizations and community leaders.

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Morning Notes

Local Man Killed in Crash Near Shirlington — “At approximately 7:44 p.m. on July 3, 2020, police were dispatched to the area of Walter Reed Drive and S. Wakefield Street for multiple reports of a crash with injury. The preliminary investigation indicates that the motorcyclist was traveling southbound on Walter Reed Drive at a high rate of speed when he lost control, struck a pole and was thrown from the vehicle.” [Arlington County]

Yorktown Grad Entering Third NFL Season — “The upcoming NFL season, if it is played, will be M.J. Stewart’s third, and the Yorktown High School graduate is more than eager for this month’s training camp then the 2020-21 season to start. ‘I just want to get to training camp,’ said the 5-foot-11, 200-pound defensive back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.” [InsideNova]

Ethiopian Community Facing Dual Challenges — “The Supreme Court on June 25 okayed the Trump administration’s policy of limiting the number of asylum seekers in the country… Most likely to feel the impact locally is the Arlington-based Ethiopian Community Development Council Inc., the refugee-support and State Department-authorized transition agency with offices just off Columbia Pike… this sub-sector of Arlington’s diverse population is among those hit hardest by the coronavirus lockdown.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Why Galaxy Hut is Not Opening Indoors — Updated at 9:10 a.m. — “We just decided ultimately that the questions are too many. Too many questions about how safe it is to be out and dine. And we didn’t feel like with our small size in particular that we would be a good candidate for trying this out. We didn’t want to take the risk.” [WJLA]

River Rescue Blocks Chain Bridge — From Sunday afternoon: “River incident the Potomac River vicinity Fletchers boathouse. Injured 18 year old who fell approximately 20 feet from rocks. Will require patient to be lowered to shoreline and transported by boat.” [Twitter]

Wardian Completes Delaware Run — “Ultrarunner Mike Wardian ran the length of the state of Delaware, starting the 130-mile (209-kilometre) route on July 2 and finishing 26 hours later. He began the run in the afternoon, just north of Wilmington, Delaware’s largest city, near the state border with Pennsylvania. He ran in [93 degree] weather straight through the night and next morning, and 26 hours, 19 minutes and 43 seconds later, he crossed the state’s southern border and ran into Maryland.” [Canadian Trail Running]

Photo courtesy Eliana Carreño

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The Supreme Court issued a pair of momentous rulings this week, and Arlington’s Congressional delegation is celebrating both.

On Monday, the high court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGBTQ individuals from workplace discrimination. Earlier today, it blocked the Trump administration’s efforts to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Arlington’s Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said the DACA ruling is “a great moment” for the nation, but cautioned that more work is to be done to reform the immigration system.

Dreamers are Americans, they belong here. This ruling is a great moment for the United States. It is important to remember, though, that even with this decision from the Supreme Court very important work remains. The ball once again is in Congress’ court to pass meaningful, humane, and comprehensive immigration reform to fix our broken immigration system in ways which reflect our values as a nation of immigrants. The Senate could take a big step forward in that regard at any time by passing the Dream and Promise Act.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) likewise cheered the decision.

President Trump’s decision to end DACA plunged hundreds of thousands of innocent young people into legal limbo and wreaked havoc upon nearly every area of American life. I’m so thankful the Court has put an end to this Administration’s ill-conceived broken promise. Congress should now pass the HEROES Act to prevent the deportation of undocumented essential workers during the pandemic and the American Dream and Promise Act to permanently protect these kids and young adults.

Earlier this week, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said via social media that the Supreme Court “did the right thing” in giving LGBTQ Americans protection against employment discrimination under law.

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(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Coronavirus is disproportionately sickening Arlington’s Hispanic community, while disproportionately killing the elderly.

New demographic data from the Virginia Dept. of Health shows that 51% of COVID-19 cases in Arlington are among those identified as Hispanic or Latino, while according to the county only 15% of the population is Hispanic or Latino. That data only includes instances in which ethnicity was reported.

That disparity seems to be reflected in the geographic distribution of cases in Arlington. The two zip codes with the highest number of coronavirus cases and the highest test positivity rates are 22203 and 22204, both of which are home to sizable populations of Hispanic immigrants.

The demographic disparity is also reflected in statewide numbers: 46% of cases in which ethnicity is reported involve Hispanic or Latino residents, while only 9.6% of the state is Hispanic or Latino, according to U.S. Census data.

The spread of the virus among the Hispanic community is attributed, at least in part, to the fact that many are working in jobs deemed essential, in industries like cleaning, food production, retail and construction. The pandemic has also caused economic devastation for many lower-wage workers, leading to scenes like that pictured above, when on April 17 a huge crowd gathered for a food giveaway at a store on Columbia Pike.

“We have a problem, a big problem, with the level of assistance that the vulnerable Latino community is getting right now in Virginia,” former Arlington County Board member Walter Tejada told the Virginia Mercury. Tejada is president of the Virginia Latino Leaders Council.

“These are frontline workers — frontline heroes — who do not have the luxury of staying home and making a living doing Zoom conferences or teleworking. They wipe our floors, pluck feathers, pick crops, clean our rooms,” Tejada said. Other leaders quoted by the Mercury were similarly critical of the level of outreach and aid to Latinos in Virginia.

Arlington County, for its part, has been providing some of its coronavirus information in Spanish, and last week opened a new walk-up testing site on Columbia Pike.

“At the County-level, there has been a concerted effort to deliver our messages in multiple languages,” said county spokeswoman Jessica Baxter. “In early April we sent a mailer to every household in Arlington providing information on steps our community needs to take to slow the spread of the virus and made it available in Spanish, and 7 other languages on our website. Public Health, along with other departments, has been using the County’s network of trusted partners to help disseminate key information.”

“Public Health also dispatches volunteers to ensure individuals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 can meet their basic needs while under isolation,” Baxter added. “This includes having groceries picked up, prescriptions refilled and delivering cleaning and medical supplies, as needed and as available.”

Baxter said that while those who are Hispanic or Latino are overrepresented in the data, it’s not as bad as it currently looks due to issues with the information reported to the state health department. As of Monday, “Hispanics represent 28% of the confirmed cases” in Arlington, Baxter said in an email sent after the initial publication of this article.

“For half of our cases, Hispanic origin is not reported,” she said. “Original information about the ethnicity (Hispanic origin) of reported cases was missing from the doctors and laboratories that submit case reports to the Virginia Department of Health. Arlington, during its case interviews, has captured this information and is backfilling the missing information.”

“Unfortunately, the disparities and the inequities existed prior to this emergency and are being reflected in the communities being hit the hardest,” Baxter added.

Those who are dying from COVID-19, meanwhile, are disproportionately the elderly.

As of Tuesday morning, the state health department reported 1,688 cases, 331 hospitalizations and 79 deaths in Arlington. Of those 79 deaths, all but five — or 94% — were among those 60 years of age or older. More than half were among those 80+.

Statewide death statistics were similarly skewed heavily toward those 60 and older.

When ethnicity was reported, only 13% of deaths in Arlington were among Latinos, despite the much higher proportion of cases.

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Morning Notes

VHC Staff Honored by NYSE — Two radiation therapists at Virginia Hospital Center, Melinda Mack and Amanda Sprecher, were honored during the opening bell ringing at the New York Stock Exchange yesterday. [Twitter]

Tomorrow is Arlington’s ‘Community Day’ — “A beloved Arlington tradition, Neighborhood Day brings communities together to enjoy the great outdoors and strengthens ties between neighbors.  In our currently socially-distant world, Neighborhood Day 2020 (May 2) is swapping out the traditional outdoor get-togethers and focusing on how Arlingtonians can build community while staying apart.” [Arlington County]

Fundraiser for Shelter Employee Bonuses — “I’m raising money to benefit four emergency shelters in Arlington County. The front line staff at these organizations are heroes who risk their personal health and wellness for those most vulnerable. I want to offer each front line staff member a $5/ hour bonus for their selfless work for at least two weeks.” [GoFundMe, Facebook]

Courtland Towers Store to Become Apartments — “It’ll soon be ‘bye, bye, bodega,’ as Arlington County Board members are allowing the owner of the Courtland Towers apartments in the Courthouse area to replace its longstanding ground-floor convenience store with four additional residential units and other amenities for residents. The proposal had generated pushback from nearby residents and garnered formal opposition from the Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Federation.” [InsideNova]

Roots Closing at Pentagon City Mall — “Toronto clothing retailer Roots Corp. said Wednesday it will close both its stores in Greater Washington. The closure of outposts in Georgetown and at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City come as part of the liquidation of the apparel company’s U.S. subsidiary through a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing — a measure being taken to close the stores quickly and in a cost-effective manner, the company said.” [Washington Business Journal]

Fund Created for Local Immigrants in Need — “The Dream Project, a nonprofit organization offering educational assistance to immigrants in Northern Virginia through scholarships and mentoring, has established an emergency relief fund to help immigrant students and families who are struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” [Press Release]

Hotel Donates Rooms to County — An unnamed hotel in Arlington has donated rooms to the county to serve as Permanent Supportive Housing for up to 16 people, reducing their risk of COVID-19 exposure. [Arlington County]

Electric Bills Going Down This Month — “Dominion Energy says Virginia customers will see a $6 discount on their billing each month starting on May 1. ‘The cost of fuel has gone down and we’re passing the savings directly on to customers,’ Dominion Energy said.” [NBC 12 Richmond]

New County Initiative Tackling Hunger — “Arlington County announced a new initiative for the coronavirus era: the Cooperative for a Hunger Free Arlington. We talked to those heading the group — Abby Raphael, Diane Kresh and Amy Maclosky — about what it is and how they plan to help during these tough times.” [Facebook, Apple Podcasts]

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Morning Notes

Board Members Remember Erik Gutshall — “The four remaining Arlington County Board members – Chair Libby Garvey, Christian Dorsey, Katie Cristol and Matt de Ferranti – spent several minutes each remembering former Vice Chair Erik Gutshall, who died on Thursday after an 8-week battle with brain cancer.” [Blue Virginia]

School Board Discusses Distance Learning — “There’s both positive and negative news as Arlington Public Schools has pivoted to distance-learning in an effort to squeeze in some education during the COVID-19 lockdown. The good news? At least things have not gone as badly as in neighboring Fairfax County, where that school system’s attempt to re-start instruction collapsed in a technical debacle and ensuing recriminations last week. The bad news? Arlington school officials acknowledge that their efforts are not going to be able to replicate what could be accomplished during more normal time.” [InsideNova]

APS Names Teacher, Principal of the Year — Arlington Career Center Culinary Arts Teacher Chef Renee Randolph is the 2020 Arlington Public Schools Teacher of the Year, while Campbell Elementary’s Maureen Nesselrode has been named Principal of the Year.

Beyer Blasts Trump Immigration Order — “From the beginning Trump has flailed about seeking someone to blame for his own failure… Immigration has nearly stopped and the US has far more cases than any other country. This is just xenophobic scapegoating.” [Twitter]

Legality of County Grant Criteria Questioned — “The Arlington County government announced that it will hand out grants to small businesses based on ‘considerations’ such as whether the business is ‘women and/or minority-owned.’ That ‘consideration’ of race and sex is unconstitutional.” [CNSNews]

VRE Train Strikes Man in D.C. Near Long Bridge — “A man was hit and killed by a train in Southwest D.C. Monday morning and train traffic in the area has been stopped.  The man was struck in the 1300 block of Maryland Avenue SW, the D.C. fire department said on Twitter at 7:30 a.m.” [NBC 4, Twitter]

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Morning Notes

County Forms Hunger Task Force — “In anticipation of increasing need, County Manager Mark Schwartz and APS Interim Superintendent Cintia Johnson have created the Cooperative for a Hunger Free Arlington (CHFA) and tasked it to help coordinate efforts to make sure that every Arlington resident who needs food has it during the pandemic.” [Arlington County]

ACPD, Bayou Bakery Distribute Free Meals — “Yesterday, ACPD assisted with the distribution of over 100 meals and school supplies to families in our community. This successful event was a collaborative effort by Real Food For Kids, Bayou Bakery, Abingdon Elementary PTA and private donations.” [Facebook]

Del. Lopez Celebrates Va. Dream Act Signing — “After years of work in the legislature — and decades of activism from educators, students, and advocates across the Commonwealth — the Virginia Dream Act has finally been signed into law, expanding in-state tuition to undocumented students for the first time.” [Press Release]

Wardian Went to Work After 63 Hour Race — “Q: How much did you sleep when you were done with the race? A: I didn’t sleep at all. I came right back from the race and I had a work deadline Tuesday morning at 11 a.m. I work from home, so I came right to my desk. I started working until I passed out on my keyboard. I told everyone to please double check all my work.” [New York Times]

County Again Encouraging Clapping Tonight — “Join us in saluting healthcare workers on Monday night! At 8 p.m., clap in front yards, balconies, windows and cars to show gratitude.” [Facebook]

Rosslyn Couple’s Very Mini Golf Course — “When your fiancée sets up a 9-hole mini @TheMasters for your quarantine birthday, you want @Buck to call play-by-play on the disappointing 9th hole.” [Twitter]

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This sponsored column is by James Montana, Esq. and Doran Shemin, Esq., practicing attorneys at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact James for an appointment.

It is an underappreciated fact that immigrants, not taxpayers, foot the bill for the bureaucratic machinery of the U.S. immigration system. And it is a big bill. The annual budget of US Citizenship and Immigration Services is $4.8 billion. Ninety-seven percent of that is funded by immigrants themselves.

The Department of Homeland Security periodically reviews USCIS fees to make sure that its income keeps up with its costs. The newest review, which is up for public comment until December 16, imposes large increases on the most common types of immigration applications. For example, an ordinary green card application packet, with applications for interim benefits, currently costs $1,225. The new price is $2,195. An ordinary application for citizenship currently costs $725. The new price is $1,170.

On the whole, prices are set to increase by about twenty percent across all application types, but the pain will be concentrated, for reasons unclear to us, on ordinary individuals applying for benefits. Businesses face much smaller price increases. In addition, applicants for asylum will be required to pay a fee — for the first time in U.S. history — and the government will demand that asylum seekers pay $490 for their first work permit. How to pay for a work permit without working legally is unclear to us; in practical terms, the government is simply demanding that asylum seekers work without permits.

The why of government action is not always easy to discern. USCIS’s own report suggests that the reason for the fee increases is threefold:

  1. Transfer of funding from USCIS to ICE. In short, green card application fees are being used to pay for immigration enforcement, including detention and removal operations.
  2. Pay increases for existing USCIS staff and additional hiring.
  3. Increased administrative overhead and vetting costs.

These justifications aren’t particularly persuasive. Fees increased by twenty percent in 2017 and are set to increase by another twenty percent in 2020. The USCIS budget was $3.3B in 2017. The USCIS cost projection for fiscal year 2020 is $4.6B. During this period of lavish budget increases and moderate workload growth, USCIS has, by its own admission, gotten worse and worse at processing applications in a timely way. Year-long backlogs have become the new norm.

There are plenty of conscientious public servants at USCIS. We want them to have the resources they need to adjudicate requests fairly, quickly and securely. But the burden of paying for it should be more evenly distributed, and immigrants should be able to get answers in months, not years, for ordinary benefits requests.

In these challenging times, even minor mistakes on immigration applications can have expensive consequences and cause a long process to be delayed even further. We’re here to help.

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Marymount University has launched a new scholarship program for its Dreamer students, starting in the 2020-21 school year.

The school officially announced its Dreamers Scholarship Program last night at a kick-off party in the university’s Main House, where Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va) and university president Irma Becerra gave remarks.

“Marymount is a special place, it is a recognized as one of the most diverse universities in the south,” Kaine said. “Diversity is a value here, and the support for Dreamers is very, very admirable.”

The university on N. Glebe Road is home to over 50 Dreamers — young immigrant students protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. These students are unable to apply for federal financial aid, which creates an obstacle for paying for higher education.

New for this school year, Marymount became one of 25 colleges in the country to offer grants for students through TheDream.US, a scholarship program that assists Dreamer students. Five students at Marymount are currently receiving the grants.

“Students have enough stress in their lives, and the lack of financial support creates another level of stress — these are incredible students, and we want them to be successful,” Becerra said. “We would love to support them all. That’s what this new scholarship is all about.”

Last night’s announcement kicked off the search for scholarship funding for the remaining students.

“We are looking for any and all sorts of support,” Becerra said.

During the event, Marymount freshman and Dream.US recipient Ashly Trejo Mejia introduced Sen. Kaine during a speech in which she shared the struggles of immigrating to Virginia from Honduras as a young girl, and the fear of not knowing whether she could attend college.

“Marymount was one of those hidden treasures that I, and the rest of us, did not know we had here waiting for us,” Mejia said. “The day of my high school graduation was the most emotional day of my life — I was achieving something that our family members longed for. Coming to Marymount has been a blessing.”

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This sponsored column is by James Montana, Esq. and Doran Shemin, Esq., practicing attorneys at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact James for an appointment.

ARLnow readers know well that the Washington D.C. metro area has one of the largest Salvadoran populations in the United States. Many Salvadorans in our community have been living and working in the United States lawfully for many years under a program called Temporary Protected Status, also known as TPS. Other immigrants from Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen also hold TPS. Quietly, cheaply and efficiently, TPS has offered a safe harbor for many of our friends and neighbors for decades.

The Trump Administration, for reasons best known to itself, has sought to wind down the program, particularly for Salvadoran, Honduran, Nicaraguan, Sudanese, Haitian and Nepalese citizens. TPS holders, employers and immigration attorneys throughout the country have been waiting on pins and needles to see if the Trump Administration would extend TPS for these countries, thereby allowing many immigrants to continue to be productive members of our community.

Thanks to litigation on a scale best appreciated by watching Game of Thrones battles through a kaleidoscope, TPS has indeed been extended until January 4, 2021 for El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, Sudan, Honduras and Nepal. (Two years ago, one of your Infallible Writers told you that TPS was ending. He was wrong.)

This array of stopgap extensions is better than nothing. But what are employers supposed to do if they have to worry year after year about losing their workforce when TPS finally ends? Thankfully, there is an answer for these employers: sponsor TPS employees for permanent residency.

Employers who have trusted employees that are authorized to work under the TPS program can file petitions on behalf of these employees that can eventually lead to green cards. This process, called PERM, is a three-step process that allows immigrants to receive permanent residency in the United States. Any company, large or small, can use PERM to petition beloved employees or attractive potential employees.

It starts off with recruitment and certification overseen by the Department of Labor, followed by an immigrant visa petition with the Department of Homeland Security. If all goes well, the employee can then apply for a green card. This process helps employers keep their star employees without worrying about the whims of the government.

If you have TPS, or you work with a team that includes TPS employees, reach out to an immigration attorney to see if this process is right for you. Moving from TPS to a green card requires dealing with multiple bureaucracies, and small mistakes can have major consequences. We’re here to help. We’re also here to answer questions, so please feel free to leave a comment. We read and appreciate them all.

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