For the first time since 2007, a flawed and racist immigration program that allows local law enforcement to act like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and help separate families will no longer be in effect in Virginia’s Prince William County come July 1. “The Prince William-Manassas Jail Board decided on Wednesday to end its participation in ICE’s 287(g) program, a resounding win for immigrants’ rights activists who have fought this contract for more than a decade,” The Appeal’s Felipe De La Hoz reports.
Prince William Times reports that activists “huddled around a portable speaker connected to someone’s cell phone” Wednesday as the board was to decide the fate of the program, which is set to expire in the county on June 30. Following not one single member of the 11-person board seconding the sheriff’s move to continue the policy, the program will end upon expiration. “The activists erupted in cheers and then chants of ‘We did it!’ and ‘This is home! This is home,’” the report continued.
Chief among 287(g)’s critics on the board was Democratic state Delegate Elizabeth Guzmán, who in 2018 became one of the first Latinas elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. “Guzman and others say the agreement struck terror in immigrant communities after some people were arrested for minor traffic infractions and later deported,” The Washington Post reported. “As a result, they said, undocumented immigrants were less willing to cooperate with local police, fearing that they, too, would be turned in.”
Families will, in fact, be safer following the end of this program. The American Immigration Council said that “An investigation by the Department of Justice concluded that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona engaged in a pattern and practice of constitutional violations, including racial profiling of Latinos, after entering a 287(g) agreement. For example, the investigation found that deputies of Sheriff Joe Arpaio routinely conducted ‘sweeps’ in Latino neighborhoods, and that Latino drivers in certain parts of Maricopa County were up to nine times more likely to be stopped than non-Latino drivers.”
According to the county’s Department of Economic Development, “More than half of the county’s population is either African American, Hispanic, Asian or some other racial/ethnic background, which is substantially higher compared to the state of Virginia and United States.” Immigrant rights advocates who have spent years fighting for families, including Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights and CASA, celebrated the program’s upcoming expiration. “The vote of the Jail Board was not close,” CASA Virginia director Luis Aguilar said. “After Prince William Sheriff Glenn Hill moved a motion to enter into a new agreement to replace the one expiring, his motion failed to receive a second.”
“Our community has been treated unfairly by those who are supposed to protect us,” said Delia Escobar, Prince William County resident and CASA member. “But now with the end of 287(g), we are less afraid of the police when we drive to work or to take our kids to school. There’s no space for hate and the change starts now.” CASA said in the statement that “Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, immigrant families were afraid to seek medical aid due to fear that law enforcement will inquire about their immigration status. Because of the costs to taxpayers, the loss of trust with law enforcement, and continued anti-immigrant sentiment, it was time that the 287(g) program end.”
The Appeal also reported that another county recently moved to end ICE’s entanglements in the community after Democratic primary voters in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, ousted Sheriff Ira Edwards, who collaborated with the mass deportation agency for years. “Edwards, the incumbent, had come under fire from immigrants’ rights advocates for agreeing to honor so-called ICE detainers,” the report said.