By Jorge E. Figueredo, Director of Racial Justice and Immigrants’ Rights and Claire G. Gastañaga, Executive Director
Governor McDonnell announced last week that his request that some state police officers be deputized by the federal government to engage in immigration law enforcement was rejected (without fanfare or public notice) last February.  This is good news for everyone living and working in the Commonwealth.
The Governor had asked Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of Homeland Security, to sign a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Virginia Department of State Police (VDSP) and Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.  Working in collaboration with the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations and other key groups, the ACLU-VA sent a letter to Secretary Napolitano opposing such an agreement.  The letter included the endorsement of more than 70 local, state and national organizations and 200 individuals.
The ACLU of VA and its coalition partners opposed the 287g agreement between ICE and the VDSP because state and local police should not be doing the job of the federal government in enforcing federal immigration law.  Involvement of state and local officers in federal immigration enforcement makes us all less safe by diverting needed police resources from community crime fighting, by undercutting community policing efforts in immigrant communities and by creating an environment conducive to bias-based policing.
Even under 287g agreements, state and local officers do not have and do not receive the training necessary to enforce immigration laws without raising serious concerns about racial profiling. A 2005 study by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (VDCJS) found that about 1 out of 5 departments still “did not provide in-service bias-based police training to officers.”
Anecdotal evidence suggests that bias-based policing adversely affecting foreign-born Virginians regardless of immigration status is already taking place. The ACLU of VA has received information on alleged incidences of bias involving police from Prince William, Manassas, Loudoun, and Herndon, all jurisdictions where a 287(g) agreement has been signed between local law enforcement agencies and ICE. The anecdotal evidence is difficult to refute or to prove because Virginia law enforcement agencies do not collect demographic data on policing actions including traffic stops, issuance of summons or custodial arrests for misdemeanor offenses. This is despite a finding in the 2005 study mentioned previously that 61.9 percent of Virginia citizens support the collection of such data, and despite efforts led by Virginia Organizing to pass legislation to require it.
Thanks to the good work of the ACLU of VA and its partners, no Virginia State Police officers will be deputized by the federal government as immigration enforcement officers under 287g. Nonetheless, bias-based policing remains a real concern in Virginia among all people of color, regardless of immigration status. And, it will continue to be a concern unless and until Virginia law enforcement agencies begin collecting demographic data on traffic stops and other police/community interactions. Without such data there can be no assurance of equal justice or accountability for bias.  The ACLU of VA will continue to work to ensure that equal justice, on our streets and in our courtrooms, is a reality for all people living, working and travelling in Virginia.