Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Immigrant Concerns

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Immigrant Concerns

We appreciated Sheriff Dana Lawhorne’s explanatory op-ed [“Sheriff’s Office and Due Process”] in the Aug. 2-8 Alexandria Gazette Packet.

We continue to question the practice of holding detainees in the Alexandria jail beyond their legal custody period in order to transfer them to ICE. Although the Sheriff has clarified that it rarely takes the full 48 hours (his original agreement) — and more often takes 16 hours (his modified agreement) — why should we hold them at all beyond their legal custody period, especially in the absence of a judicial warrant?

If they have posted bail, or if they have completed their sentences, they should be released. Moreover, we are concerned about detainees in pre-trial, who have not yet gone through the judicial process — should they also summarily be turned over to ICE for deportation? We believe that every individual should be treated justly and accorded due process before the law, regardless of their immigration status.

Further, the request from ICE to the ASO may be deemed “lawful,” but what is currently “lawful” under the Trump administration's immigration policy is inhumane, as we’ve seen all too clearly. The recent ICE raids in D.C. and Richmond add to the public’s fears. Indeed, another troubling result of our continued agreement with ICE is the immigrant community’s heightened concerns about reporting genuine threats to public safety — whatever they may be — due to fear of ICE involvement. While we are sure this is not the Sheriff's intent, it is important for him to realize that this reluctance to report crime is a widely documented byproduct of collaboration with ICE. We believe that if any of our neighbors refrain from reporting serious crime, our entire community will be less safe.

The ASO’s Statement on Immigration Concerns states an aim of "striking a balance between protecting the public and doing no harm."

Unfortunately it misses the mark when people seeking a better life,asylum, and refuge are being harmed by federal policies. We want to make sure that the ASO is not facilitating policies that undermine the wellbeing and freedom of individuals and families in Alexandria. To that end, we urge the ASO to remove ICE from its contract with the U.S. Marshals Office, and thus terminate the practice of holding detainees beyond their legal custody period. We request that Sheriff Lawhorne set a higher bar by requiring a warrant from ICE that is signed by a judge.

Finally, we also would like to respectfully ask the Sheriff to initiate a public conversation with the larger Alexandria community about ways to protect our immigrant population. We must work collaboratively to help them stay together as families and feel safe in our city.

Zeina Azzam

Janet Murphy