"This is a difficult time that requires us to come together,” County Board Manager Mark Schwartz said in late February as he unveiled a new one-stop Immigration Resource website. Now several months later he said, "There haven't been any factual changes in the executive orders and regulations but people are still concerned about their families being ripped apart. Their behavior has changed, and they aren't going about the business they need to take care of themselves."
The purpose of the new website, also available in Spanish, is to help residents access policies, procedures and services for immigrants in Arlington County. The website includes Frequently Asked Questions as well as information about county services and resources available with links to outside organizations, a Know Your Rights section and a list of organizations that can provide legal aid. Schwartz explained the website was developed after a large number of requests from the community to clarify the county's approach given the President's executive orders and the statements from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE.)
Schwartz indicated that Arlington is struggling to understand the relationship between members of the Arlington community and Federal actions on immigration enforcement.
"Regardless of what your views are with respect to immigration enforcement and the actions taken by the Administration, we must remember that at the heart of every policy debate or every government statistic are people,” he said. “Members of our community — our neighbors, our friends. Our commitment to each of our residents is unwavering."
The questions and answers clarify that while Arlington County is a welcoming and inclusive jurisdiction, it is not a sanctuary jurisdiction. This is because the word sanctuary might wrongfully imply that the county could protect individuals from Federal immigration actions, which it cannot. But "we have not, will not and do not enforce Federal immigration laws. That is the role of the Federal government not law enforcement officers."
The Q&A's elaborated: "Arlington County law enforcement has not, and will not monitor, detain, interview or investigate a person solely for the purpose of determining their immigration status."
Schwartz explained that the Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) will cooperate with any Federal law enforcement agency including ICE in a request for assistance with executing a criminal warrant for the apprehension of a specific individual or individuals and if there is a legitimate local public safety concern. "But ACPD will not use their trusted relationship with residents as a way for ICE to take action against them."
The website clarifies that any child living in Arlington has a right to attend school and that Arlington Public Schools doesn’t collect information on whether a student is undocumented. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act establishes privacy requirements for student education records. In addition, while Federal authorities are not restricted from taking immigration enforcement actions at any location including schools, U.S. Department of Homeland Security policy does establish that ICE will not ordinarily take actions at certain sensitive locations such as schools or churches.
A number of county and community services are available to newly arrived and low-income residents including aging and disability, child welfare and behavioral health services, emergency financial assistance and shelter, employment services as well as mental health services and health clinics. Arlington County does not require any resident to provide proof of legal presence in order to access these services. Records of individuals receiving these services at the Arlington County Department of Human Services are protected by Federal law and regulations and can only be shared through a subpoena or warrant.
Most Federal and state programs administered by Arlington County require recipients to provide proof of legal presence. These include
Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Department of Labor funded employment training, Child care subsidies, Federal Foster care and Refugee assistance payments.
Schwartz encouraged residents to send in additional questions. "We want to hear from you."
Immigration website: firstname.lastname@example.org
County manager: email@example.com/703-228-3414
Department of Human Services: firstname.lastname@example.org
Arlington County Police Department: email@example.com
Arlington County Public Schools: apsva.us
Office of Human Rights: 703-228-3929
This article is part of a series focusing on immigrants and refugees.