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Va. Supreme Court to hear ACLU appeal in challenge of Culpeper 287(g)
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Va. Supreme Court to hear ACLU appeal in challenge of Culpeper 287(g)

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The Supreme Court of Virginia has agreed to review 2019’s Culpeper Circuit Court decision supporting the sheriff in an ACLU lawsuit that challenged the legality of the county jail’s controversial 287(g) immigration enforcement program.

The high court granted an appeal summary Dec. 19 in the American Civil Liberties of Virginia civil action against Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins and the county Board of Supervisors.

The ACLU filed suit in late 2018 after the sheriff’s implementation that April of a 287(g) agreement with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement. A retired 16th Circuit judge dismissed the lawsuit in June 2019, ruling that Jenkins is authorized to work with ICE through the federal initiative.

“The fact that our appeal was granted means we’re one step closer to ending the 287(g) program in Culpeper,” ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Eden Heilman wrote the Culpeper Star-Exponent. “We filed this appeal because it is our position that the Circuit Court decision was wrong to give Virginia sheriffs and localities authority beyond that which is granted by the Virginia General Assembly.”

The ACLU lawsuit, which named two county residents as the petitioners, further argued the county (the respondents) is wrongfully spending local taxpayer money to enforce federal immigration law, including civil offenses, in the local jail. Detractors of the program also claim it damages trust between local law enforcement and local communities and diverts time and resources from local public safety.

Sheriff Jenkins and the county attorney declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Heilman said the ACLU must submit its opening brief in the appeal by Tuesday, Jan. 28. The same is due from the county and sheriff in February, with brief replies permitted after that.

“After all the briefing is in, the court will set a date for oral argument,” Heilman said. “After the oral argument, the court will consider all of the briefing and arguments.”

Per the 287(g) agreement in place at the Culpeper County Jail, four deputies are authorized to interrogate detained people about their immigration status; process immigration violations for removable aliens or those who have been arrested for violating federal, state or local law; administer oaths and take evidence to process aliens (fingerprinting, photographing and taking sworn statements); prepare charging documents; issue immigration detainers and detain and transport undocumented immigrants subject to removal, according to the 2018 document.

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One other agency in Virginia—the Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center—has a 287(g) agreement in place. As of last July, ICE had similar agreements with 79 law enforcement agencies in 21 states.

Jenkins, a Republican, has made local immigration enforcement through the program a focal point of his time in office, giving public presentations about it and meeting President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., during an “immigration reform” event last fall with 200 other sheriffs.

“Today, every county is a border county,” Jenkins said then. “We are seeing the tragic impact of an unsecured border through the lawlessness of drug cartels, human trafficking, gang violence and deaths of U.S. citizens from homicides to drunk driving.”

The local lawman has also visited with Tarrant County, Texas, Sheriff Bill Waybourn, who made national headlines for his immigration-related statements, to learn more about his 287(g) program.

Jenkins, who won re-election to a third term in November, has faced local opposition to 287(g). In late 2017, the Hispanic community packed the Board of Supervisors meeting room to voice that opposition, speaking out about the stress 287(g) has caused local Spanish-speaking families. In April 2018, a rally was held in a local park to protest the program. A counter-rally also was held.

The program surfaced as an issue in the 2019 election, with the sheriff’s challenger, C.J. Johnson, vowing to get rid of 287(g) if elected. In response, Jenkins released a series of Facebook videos last fall.

In the posts, Jenkins said four certified jail deputies interview prisoners in implementing the program to “identify information that’s then submitted through a dedicated ICE computer system.” Jenkins said the Culpeper County Jail averages 15 ICE detainers per month, with each one taking about an hour to process.

“No immigration functions are conducted on the streets—100 percent of jail inmates are screened,” Jenkins stated. “There is no profiling. Prisoners charged for local crimes come through the jail doors and are asked some additional booking questions.”

The ICE computer, located in a converted broom closet in the jail, is used to communicate with the federal agency, including fingerprints, “to determine if the prisoner should be detained,” he said.

Jenkins added, “A sheriff must ask, ‘Is it constitutional? Is it the right thing to do?’ We’re law enforcement—of course it is.”

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