The Prince William County-Manassas jail board on Wednesday night let its 13-year-old cooperation agreement with federal immigration authorities expire.
Its action stopped a controversial program championed by former Republican county board chairman Corey Stewart, which immigrant advocates said made the Virginia community a national symbol of intolerance.
With Stewart now out of politics after a failed U.S. Senate bid last year and the county growing increasingly Democratic, the jail board refused to entertain a motion to renew its 287(g) agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That in effect allows the program to end on June 30, officials said.
“I’m not seeing any hard data where the 287 program has been shown to be the direct cause of any measurable crime reduction,” Barry Barnard, the county’s police chief, told his fellow jail board members during a sometimes contentious debate. “I do wonder if this program has run its course.”
(Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins has drawn nationwide attention for implementing ICE’s 287(g) program in the county jail. Jail deputies processing new inmates screen inmates for their immigration documentation status and issue 48-hour detainers.)
Prince William County initially entered into the 287(g) contract in 2007. The current agreement, in effect since 2009, allowed local jail officials to check the immigration status of people arrested for a variety of crimes and turn over to ICE those suspected of being in the country illegally.
Since 2017, it has led to the transfer of 2,639 county inmates to ICE custody after their jail sentences finished. Among them: 65 inmates who were convicted of murder, 277 convicted of sexual assault and 1,612 convicted of driving while under the influence, according to ICE officials who testified at the meeting.
The agreement’s expiration leaves rural Culpeper County as the only jurisdiction in Virginia to have a 287(g) agreement.
The heated debate leading up to the Prince William board’s decision echoed the days in the 2000swhen the community was deeply divided over immigration—a time when county board meetings on the issue were dominated by hours of emotional testimony for and against tougher enforcement.
Today, more than half of the county’s 470,000 residents are Latino, African American or Asian, and the once-Republican-controlled county board now has a 5-3 Democratic majority.
Those changes fueled a push by Democratic supervisors to end the county’s cooperation agreement, a move made more likely last month after they successfully pushed for the appointments of several new members to the 11-member board, with intense opposition from their Republican colleagues.
On Wednesday, the normally sedate jail board meeting reflected those political divisions, with each side accusing the other of manipulating data to support their argument.
Trump administration officials who testified at the meeting highlighted some of the most dangerous criminals targeted for deportation through the program, while Manassas Police Chief Douglas Keen argued that 90% of gang members arrested in northern Virginia have been in the country illegally.
“It’s not about politics at all. It’s 100% about public safety,” Henry Lucero, ICE’s executive associate director of enforcement and removal operations, told the board.
State Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Prince William, one of the newly appointed board members, took exception to those characterizations.
“As a person who comes from another country, who is Hispanic, that really hurt me,” said Guzman, who entered local politics as a community activist working to defeat the original agreement. “We’re trying to change here in Prince William County, after we were labeled so long as criminals.”
Guzman and others argued that the 287(g) agreement has struck terror in immigrant communities after some people were arrested for minor traffic infractions and later deported—which they say is a deterrent for undocumented immigrants to cooperate with local police on other crimes.
The program’s supporters counter that allowing people accused of more serious crimes to remain in the country strikes even more terror.
“It’s not an issue of people fearing the police,” county Supervisor Yesli Vega, R-Coles, said during a board of supervisors meeting last month about the new jail board appointments.
“It’s an issue about allowing these predators [to continue] to victimize members of our immigrant communities and say, ‘If you go and report me for molesting your child, I will call ICE on you,’ “ Vega said.
Barnard, the police chief, said the program has caused more harm than good in Prince William, particularly during a time when the uproar over George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody has torn away local trust of law enforcement everywhere.
“One thing for me is: How does it affect the trust in our community?” Barnard said, adding that some Latino residents “make the connection between local police and what is going on in the jail.”
Prince William Sheriff Glendell Hill, who chairs the jail board, said the county’s 287 (g) program has been a national model for effective immigration enforcement.
“When I go to sheriffs’ conferences around the country and ICE officials are there, I kind of stick my chest out a bit because they talk about the 287(g) program in Prince William County,” said Hill, a Republican. “It’s just another tool that we use to keep our community safe.”
Other board members argued that it’s time for the state’s second-largest jurisdiction to use other policing tools.
“It’s just broken,” Tracey Lenox, a defense attorney in Manassas who was also newly appointed to the board, said about the 287(g) program.
Addressing Hill and other law enforcement officials on the board, Lenox said ending the program “is an opportunity for you guys to send a message to your minority population . . . and tell them: ‘All right, we get it. 287(g) has got to go.’ “
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