Immigration Enforcement FAQs

Page updated on May 21, 2018 at 3:45 PM
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1. What is the City of Alexandria's overall position on immigration enforcement issues?

The City of Alexandria believes in the rule of law and does not encourage or condone any type of unlawful activity. The City is also obligated by the U.S. Constitution to provide equal protection under law to everyone in its jurisdiction, and to apply its finite resources in a way that is fair and responsible given a wide variety of community needs.

In 2007, Alexandria City Council adopted a resolution affirming that Alexandria is a welcoming community that treats everyone with human dignity and respect. The resolution provided that "it is morally appropriate and fiscally prudent to focus our finite City resources towards addressing and resolving discrete community concerns that are governed by the applicable local laws," rather than attempting to assume the federal government's responsibility for immigration law.

The resolution set forth the following policies:

  • The City of Alexandria will comply with all federal and state laws related to immigration, including those that involve eligibility for state and federal programs.

  • The City of Alexandria will protect the security of its community and will aggressively prosecute individuals who threaten our security with serious crimes, including checking the immigration status of any such person and forwarding this information to appropriate state and federal officials.

  • Beyond what is required by state and federal law, the City and its various agencies will neither make inquiries about nor report on the citizenship of those who seek the protection of its laws or the use of its services.

In 2016, City Council issued an additional statement to further declare Alexandria's commitment to fostering an atmosphere of inclusiveness that respects the dignity and worth of every person.

2. Is Alexandria a sanctuary city? What is the effect of President Trump's executive order on domestic immigration enforcement?

There is no general definition of "sanctuary city," and individuals and organizations with various points of view on immigration issues have defined the term differently. President Trump's executive order dated January 27, 2017, appears to define "sanctuary jurisdictions" as those that "willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373." Since the City of Alexandria complies with all federal and state immigration laws, it is not a "sanctuary jurisdiction" under the executive order or other uses of the term that refer to violation of federal or state laws. No changes in City policies, operations, or funding are expected to result from the executive order.

3. Can the City decline to comply with federal or state immigration law?

No. The Constitution of the United States provides that if a federal law is constitutional, it preempts any state or local law or policy. The Commonwealth of Virginia follows the " Dillon Rule," which holds that localities have only the powers granted to them by the state and may not enact laws or policies that conflict with state law. Thus, the City is obligated to comply with any constitutional federal or state law.

4. What is the City of Alexandria's relationship with ICE?

The U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a federal law enforcement agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. ICE enforces federal laws governing border control, customs, trade and immigration. With more than 20,000 employees in more than 400 offices and an annual budget of approximately $6 billion, ICE is uniquely suited to carry out immigration enforcement. Local law enforcement agencies are responsible for enforcing hundreds of various state and local laws, and are not staffed to enforce federal laws including immigration.

Section 287(g) of the federal Immigration and Nationality Act permits state and local law enforcement agencies to enter into agreements with ICE to enforce federal immigration laws. The City of Alexandria does not have a "287(g) agreement," and does not enforce federal immigration laws. The few agencies nationwide that have these agreements are listed here.

The Alexandria Sheriff's Office does have an intergovernmental service agreement with the federal government to temporarily house inmates who have been charged with federal crimes. Approximately 25% of the inmates in Alexandria's detention center are held under this agreement at any given time, most of whom are awaiting hearings at the nearby federal courthouse under the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service. This agreement may also cover an inmate who is awaiting transport by ICE, but only if ICE has lodged a criminal warrant. This is not an agreement for the City of Alexandria to enforce immigration laws; it pertains only to detention of inmates already charged with federal crimes by various federal law enforcement agencies.

The City of Alexandria does not participate in ICE raids or arrests to enforce immigration laws, nor does the City provide ICE with any office space, facilities, or equipment. Representatives from law enforcement agencies, including ICE, may interview inmates in the detention center. Local detention center staff do not provide legal advice related to these interviews; it is the responsibility of the interviewing agency to provide any required notices. ICE may only remove inmates who are being held under a criminal warrant lodged by ICE.

Law enforcement agencies may obtain booking information about inmates for legitimate criminal justice purposes. ICE does not have any other special access to booking information.

5. Does the City of Alexandria check immigration status when providing government services?

Subject to City Council's 2007 resolution, the City of Alexandria reviews immigration status when required by federal or state law. We do not request or review immigration status in other cases.

Students are admitted to Alexandria City Public Schools programs without regard to immigration status. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that is it unconstitutional for public schools to deny education to students on the basis of immigration status.

6. Does the Alexandria Police Department check immigration status in the performance of its duties?

If a police officer stops and identifies a person after establishing reasonable suspicion of a crime, the officer will check for outstanding criminal warrants via the National Criminal Information Center (NCIC) if possible. If a law enforcement agency has properly listed a felony warrant in NCIC -- whether the agency is a local or state police department or a federal law enforcement agency like ICE -- Alexandria police officers will arrest the person and notify the agency that obtained the warrant. This is done as part of the national system of reciprocal warrant enforcement, without regard to the nature of the charges.

For example, if a person stopped by an Alexandria police officer was charged with robbery in another state and the associated warrant is listed in NCIC, the officer will arrest the person and notify the other state's agency. This is not done to enforce the other state's robbery laws, but to provide reciprocal warrant enforcement so that Alexandria's warrants will also be enforced in other jurisdictions. The same is true for felony warrants obtained by ICE or any other federal law enforcement agency.

There are several reasons why Alexandria police officers do not request immigration status from individuals when making stops or interacting with community members:

  • Local law enforcement agencies do not have the resources, training, or scope to enforce federal laws on immigration or other subjects. Officers do not ask someone pulled over for speeding whether they are lawfully present in the United States, just as they don't ask whether the person is current on their federal income taxes. While it is possible that a local police officer's inquiries may eventually lead to discovery of a federal offense, those efforts come at the expense of efforts to enforce state and local laws.

  • Since U.S. citizens are not required to carry proof of citizenship, many residents and visitors would not be able to easily demonstrate that they are lawfully present in the United States.

  • The Alexandria Police Department's written directives provide that determining immigration status cannot be the sole purpose to stop a person or to form the basis for an investigation or inquiry. Knowledge of the person's immigration status must come after the officer has established reasonable suspicion that the person has committed or is committing a crime.

  • No person may be arrested solely for being "an illegal immigrant." While it is a federal crime to enter the United States without authorization, it is a civil violation to remain in the United States without authorization. Thus, many immigrants who enter the country on valid visas and then remain after the visas no longer apply have committed civil violations but have not committed crimes. The Attorney General of Virginia has issued an official opinion that local police officers should not enforce federal civil violations.

7. Does the Alexandria Sheriff's Office check immigration status in the performance of its duties?

If a person is arrested and charged for any reason, he or she is transferred to the custody of the Alexandria Sheriff's Office for detention. Virginia law requires deputies to inquire whether a person booked into jail was born outside the U.S. or has been a citizen of a country other than the U.S. If so, or if the answers are unknown, staff queries a federal immigration database.

If ICE wants an inmate held past their local release date, it must submit a formal arrest warrant to serve as a detainer. ICE makes this determination on the basis of their resources and enforcement priorities, which means not all undocumented inmates will be sought by ICE. If no warrant is presented, the inmate will be released if there is no other reason to hold him or her. As explained earlier, persons are not arrested or booked into jail solely for being present in this country unlawfully.

8. Does the Alexandria Sheriff's Office accept ICE Form I-247?

ICE uses their Form I-247 ("Immigration Detainer") to notify a local agency that ICE intends to assume custody of an inmate after the inmate has completed their sentence on a local charge. The Attorney General of Virginia has issued an official opinion that Form I-247 is merely a request to hold an inmate without a criminal charge and is not sufficient to delay the inmate's release because "a person has a constitutional liberty interest in not being imprisoned longer than he was sentenced." The Sheriff’s Office will not hold anyone beyond their local sentence based on Form I-247. Only if ICE submits their Form I-200 ("Warrant for Arrest"), which is based on probable cause, will the inmate be transferred to the custody of ICE. Federal law requires the Sheriff’s Office to transfer custody in that case.

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