Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust asked a series of questions to try to elicit an answer from county law enforcement about whether Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers sometimes detain and arrest people on civil warrants when assisting county officers on criminal investigations.
“Fairfax County gang task force does not have a member of ICE participating on it, is that correct?” said Foust.
Chief of Fairfax County Police, Col. Edwin C. Chief Roessler, answered first. “We’re part of the Northern Virginia gang task force and there is a criminal element of ICE associated with that task force,” he said, “so to answer the question, we do associate with ICE in that task force for criminal investigations.”
Foust continued: “My question is, what role does ICE play on the gang task force? If a crime is committed, you don’t need ICE there to enforce the law, correct?’”
“We can investigate on our own,” Roessler said, but “these gang members don’t adhere to boundaries, so to conduct an investigation we have to cross boundaries. So, at times it’s prudent to use the task force and a criminal investigator from ICE or the FBI or other federal agencies to hunt these criminals down and arrest them.”
“If there is an ICE officer on your gang task force, and I understand criminal side, do you have a standing policy that says that they shall not make an arrest for a civil detainer while participating on your task force?” asked Foust.
Roessler said, “It’s our goal and our general orders dictate what our police officers in Fairfax County can and can’t do for the civil side of that, and it’s not my goal as your chief to go out and enforce the civil portion of that.
“That’s not the business that we’re in,” he said.
“That’s what I’m trying to get at,” said Foust. “Because what I perceive is you’re out in the community with one or more ICE agents who are arresting people while participating on your task force for non-criminal conduct.”
“And that’s what we don’t want,” said Roessler.
THE BOARD’S PUBLIC SAFETY committee met Tuesday, April 3, to discuss these issues together.
“Our board was looking forward to a frank and open discussion with ICE about their enforcement activities in Fairfax County, which is what ICE had agreed to originally. It is unfortunate that this opportunity was derailed,” said Chairman Sharon Bulova.
ICE didn’t take a seat, although Adonnis T. Smith Sr., Washington Field Office Enforcement and Removal Operations, was listed on the agenda along with Barbara M. Gonzalez, assistant director, Stakeholder Engagement – Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE).
“There was a lot of disagreement about federal participation today,” said Public Safety Committee chairman and Braddock District Supervisor John Cook.
ICE officers spoke from the audience to say that they were present and ready to speak at two points during the meeting.
“We appreciate you being here,” said Bulova. “There were a lot of organizations that actually asked to have a seat at the table, including ICE and including VOICE. There were others [immigrant advocates] who believed that this was going to be a public forum or a public hearing which it is not. This is a committee meeting of the Board of Supervisors.”
Bulova said later on Facebook: “ICE then asked that a representative from the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) Office be at the table as well. Since VOICE’s mission (giving voice to victims of crimes by illegal immigrants), while admirable, was not germane to the subject of this meeting, I asked they not be a part of the discussion. ICE then presented us with an ultimatum — hear from all of us or none of us. ICE representatives chose instead to sit in the audience,” Bulova wrote.
“Prior to this meeting my office also heard from pro-immigrant rights groups who wished to have a seat at the table during the meeting. They were told ‘sorry’ for a similar reason — their issues were off topic and this was a Board Committee Meeting and not a public forum.”
Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity disagreed. “I think they are our law enforcement partners and I think they should be able to participate, but I’ll respect the decision of the chairs,” said Herrity.
Still, ICE and its partnership with local law enforcement continued as the topic of the meeting.
FOUST QUESTIONED Col. Douglas W. Keen, Chief of Police, City of Manassas, and chairman of the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force.
“Do you allow ICE agents participating on the task force with your officers to make arrests for non-criminal conduct?”
Keen answered: “There are no ICE agents assigned to the task force. It is a local and state task force. We will work with ICE, just as the captain said, as another tool just like the FBI, DEA, Secret Service or any others. There are times we may ask for ICE assistance and they will help us on that criminal investigation.”
“I think we’re all comfortable with the criminal side,” said Foust. “What you seem to be evading is, do they take into custody while participating on your task force persons presumed or assumed to be in violation of non-criminal immigration rules.”
“I don’t dictate what ICE does,” answered Keen. “That would be their policy. When they are a member of the task force, they are there for criminal apprehension purposes.
“ICE, it would probably be best if they explained, if they had an opportunity, they have two different divisions, they have a criminal division and they have a civil division. The criminal division is working with us,” said Keen.
Roessler said: “We don’t want the community to be looking at us as if we’re using a criminal as a proxy to get into a house and say, ‘You, you and you, come with me.’”
“I hope that’s exactly accurate because that is not consistent with what I was led to believe, which was that these ICE agents do indeed take people into custody while on raids with you for violations that are not criminal activities,” said Foust.
ICE had been active in Route 1 area, said Roessler, and the FCPD asked ICE to alert them when and where they are conducting raids in the county so that police know if they get a call for example for a home invasion or robbery, they won’t respond.
“Obviously, they are federal law enforcement officers and they have absolute right to go into that community, I as a chief cannot override that federal right and that’s where the confusion is in the community. It’s not your police department in Fairfax County that’s conducting the civil raids, it’s ICE, and that’s their job.”
SHERIFF STACEY A. KINCAID informed ICE in January that the Sheriff’s Office would terminate its intergovernmental service agreement (IGSA) with ICE on May 23, following the required 120-day notice.
The “Sheriff’s Office will no longer hold inmates past their release date unless an ICE administrative request to detain the inmate is accompanied by a criminal detainer issued by a court,” according to Kincaid.
The City of Alexandria, on May 23, will be the only one of 123 jurisdictions in Virginia to maintain its intergovernmental service agreement with ICE, said Kincaid.
“Our compliance with Code of Virginia will not be compromised,” she said. “Our conclusion to terminate this agreement was done after a thorough very intensive process.”
Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay asked if the decision would impact criminal investigations of the gang task force.
“Little to no impact on the gang task force,” answered Keen.
“Little to no impact, make sure everybody heard that,” said McKay, “because facts matter and facts really matter when you are dealing with people’s emotions. And when you're trying to scare people in Fairfax County into believing things that are happening that are not happening.”
THE MAJORITY of the board supported Kincaid’s decision.
“When you terminated the ISA, it was undoubtedly predictable on your part that there would be those who would try to make a political issue out of this, would try to scare people. I appreciate the courage you showed, you did the right thing,” said Foust.
“It was the right decision to make,” said McKay.
“I’ve got to tell you, from all the officers that I’ve talked to and from my years on this board the number one most powerful tool we have in Fairfax County is a community that can trust and will talk to law enforcement to solve our crimes,” said McKay. “What’s happening at the federal level and the misinformation that’s being put out ... about the decision the Sheriff made is making that a lot harder.
“We’re one of the safest jurisdictions in the country because our people trust, believe, and speak to us and help us solve crimes,” McKay said. “And if we scare people that’s not going to happen.”
Bulova commented that it is very confusing to the immigrant community and damaging to the trust in county police that ICE agents are conducting raids in the county wearing uniforms that say “POLICE” in large letters across the back.
“It confuses and scares people when they see a uniform that says police and it’s not police at all. It’s ICE,” said Bulova. “It may say ICE somewhere on that uniform but people see police and think it’s our Fairfax County police who are actually serving as members of ICE.”
HERRITY SPOKE for the minority. He was not in support of Sheriff Kincaid’s decision to terminate the agreement with ICE.
“I think we need to continue cooperating with ICE to the fullest extent possible,” he said.
“This is about protecting our immigrant community,” said Herrity. “It’s human trafficking, it’s drugs, it’s murders, it’s crime and we ought to be doing everything we can to get them off the street,” he said.
“I’m very disappointed that we invited them here, we have them on the agenda, and they’re not able to speak,” said Herrity.