Several bills focusing on sanctuary cities and undocumented immigrants in Virginia are making their way through the General Assembly.
HB 2236 potentially cuts state funding for localities adopting any procedure or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws. SB 1262 makes sanctuary cities in Virginia more legally liable for undocumented immigrants. For example, if an undocumented immigrant causes a car accident, the victim could name the city in a lawsuit for harboring an undocumented person.
HB 1468 would require jails to hold undocumented immigrants ICE wants to detain, for longer than their scheduled sentence. However, a federal judge ruled in 2014 that Virginia localities don't have to abide by federal detainers.
"All the sheriff's hands are sort of tied because we have the state law and you have the federal law. We have to adhere to both," said Richmond City Sheriff C.T. Woody.
The Washington (Virginia) ICE field office deported nearly 2,000 undocumented immigrants last year, out of the more than 240,000 removed across the country. That's less than one percent out of Virginia. Sheriff Woody says the jail abides by all state and federal laws. When any inmate is booked, a background check is run, and undocumented immigrants are reported to ICE.
"We have a good working relationship with ICE. But once we contact (ICE), it's solely up to them," said Sheriff Woody.
Last year, ICE picked up 10 inmates from Richmond City Jail, out of 346 who were undocumented. ICE took 17 from Henrico jails, and 28 from Chesterfield jails.
However, Sheriff Woody says his deputies don't proactively ask someone's status, "We don't ask that question. We don't look for them."
Neither do Richmond city police. Other nearby jurisdictions say they don't routinely ask either. However, there's no legal definition of a sanctuary city, which can make these types of laws difficult to interpret.
"The legislative efforts you see this year are a continuation of the frustration that many people have had, especially over the course of the past eight years, if not much longer, about our broken immigration system, and the fact that we don't know who is in our country, and why and what their purpose is, whether they have a criminal history, whether they have bad intentions," said Virginia Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-District 15).
"All we're doing right now is harming families, harming communities, and setting up structures where we're going to be less safe because people aren't going to trust our police," said ACLU Virginia director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, over the bills.
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