Sheriff's Office Statement on Immigration Concerns

The Alexandria Sheriff’s Office does not enforce immigration laws nor does it assist ICE with any enforcement activities. We strongly believe in striking a balance between protecting the public and doing no harm. The Sheriff does not and will not become involved in any ICE enforcement activities.

Page updated on Sep 10, 2018 at 1:35 PM

Are we mandated to transfer custody to ICE?

Every Virginia Sheriff and Virginia detention center, including Fairfax and Arlington, transfer custody of inmates to ICE.

Our involvement with ICE starts when someone is arrested for violating a local or state law and is committed to the Alexandria Detention Center. We only notify ICE when the law requires us to do so per Virginia State Code 53.1-218. If ICE seeks custody of someone, they must file a warrant that is based on probable cause. A judicial warrant is not required in this situation. However the Sheriff will honor the lawful request from ICE and transfer custody to them. This is consistent with the policy of other jurisdictions.

The Sheriff's Office turns over to ICE individuals who are charged with serious and non-serious crimes. The Sheriff cannot establish a system where he picks and chooses who is turned over to ICE.

The Alexandria Sheriff's Office only does what is in the best interest of public safety. We do not hold anyone without lawful orders nor do we transfer custody to ICE unless the proper requests have been made.

The Sheriff wants to reemphasize that a judicial warrant is not required. A request from ICE is all that is needed in order for them to assume custody. ICE does not produce a judicial warrant at this phase because it’s not required. This is the system that federal law has established.

Are we mandated to have an IGA (Intergovernmental Agreement) with ICE? 

The Sheriff’s Office established an IGA with the United States Marshals in 1987 to house federal inmates. ICE was added in 2007 and therefore the ASO has a limited agreement with ICE. This agreement allows the lawful and orderly transition of custody.

The limited agreement the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office has with ICE is to transfer custody of an individual who has been incarcerated on a local/state charge. Custody will be transferred only when ICE has produced documents establishing they have the legal authority to assume custody of this person.

Transferring custody is a multifaceted process. These situations are unpredictable and require time to allow for an orderly transition. During this transition, the person will be released from our custody and placed into the custody of ICE per the IGA. The IGA helps to ensure this person, who may pose a risk to public safety, is not released back into the community while waiting to be transferred to ICE (on average takes less than 18 hours).

The Alexandria Detention Center is accredited by three organizations and inspected annually by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Virginia Department of Corrections, and ICE. We operate a humane detention center that is staffed by compassionate employees. Inmates receive the proper care and treatment while here.

The reality of the current situation

Local advocacy groups requested that we analyze the 105 individuals who were turned over to ICE in 2017. The study revealed that it takes ICE an average of 16 hours to assume physical custody of an individual who was being held on pretrial charges. For those persons who were held post-trial (i.e. convicted of a crime and served a sentence), the average time it takes ICE to assume physical custody is 10 hours.

Our research also discovered that 43% of the individuals were not Alexandria residents.

Sheriff's Office staff took the extra step to evaluate the number of individuals who have been turned over to ICE so far in 2018. In the first six months of the year, that number is 28 (4.6 per month). If the trend continues then we will have turned over to ICE nearly 40% fewer individuals this year compared to 2017.


Over the past several months there has been a wealth of misinformation circulating in the community about these issues. For example:

OPINION: We transfer custody to ICE with no judicial oversight.
FACT: The law only requires that a request be made. This is consistent with the policy of other jurisdictions.

OPINION: We hold people beyond their state release date in order to assist ICE.
FACT: We only hold for the lawful transition of custody which must take place as soon as possible.

OPINION: We enforce federal immigration policy.
FACT: This is not true.

OPINION: We are not legally bound to keep the agreement with ICE.
FACT: We transfer custody and the IGA has a limited and narrow role in accommodating the transition.

Some have demanded that the ASO not turn anyone over to ICE including those who have committed serious crimes. It would be irresponsible of the Sheriff to release back to the community someone who was convicted of these types of crimes knowing that a federal agency had filed a detainer against them.

The Sheriff has implemented a sound policy that seeks a balance between protecting the public and doing no harm.


The Sheriff requested his programs manager hold group and individual discussions with inmates who are currently incarcerated. Just like us, they are saddened by what is happening at our borders. We have extended our support along with a commitment by the Sheriff to continue an open dialogue.

Sheriff Lawhorne has also met with local advocacy groups and understands their concerns.  These meetings have been positive and resulted in a continuing dialogue about our policies and practices.

What’s next?

The Sheriff is currently working to change ASO policy to clearly reflect what we practice at the ASO and ensure that no one’s due process rights are unduly delayed. More work needs to be done but he anticipates these changes will take effect soon.

These situations are not easy for anyone and the Sheriff realizes that. He has done the best he can with the current circumstances. He will only do what he is required to do and no more. He has encouraged interested parties to come and tour the jail and talk to staff. It’s important to him to be transparent and keep the public’s trust that has been bestowed on him.

The Sheriff can be reached at 703.746.4114.