On March 20, I witnessed the difficult and at times very personal presentation by the Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne before the City Council. Fairfax County's terminating of their contract with ICE brought to the forefront questions about Alexandria’s policies governing the relationship between the city jail, the contracted Federal holding floor at the jail and ICE. The sheriff was responding to questions that had been raised at the previous Saturday’s City Council public comment period.
The sheriff explained that he had a different contract with the Federal government than Fairfax County had and terminating it would more difficult. He made statements about the legal weight of ICE's administrative warrants.
He also argued that, if an immigrant that was released based on a more liberal policy interpretation went on to cause serious harm, the sheriff himself would be blamed harshly. At that point in his testimony, I felt empathy for his concerns for the well being of our community as well as for his concerns for his own reputation.
Are the sheriff's policies following the law? He presented documentation which seemed to show: yes. Are they the most liberal policies possible regarding holding detainees for ICE that are also within the law? On the previous Saturday, the city attorney had said the answer was: no. For example, the sheriff might raise the standard for detaining the undocumented for ICE based on administrative warrants to the higher standard of requiring judicial warrants.
The most disturbing part of his presentation was that, although the Sheriff's Office researched for three days, they could only determine the status or location of 64 of the 111 individuals that they turned over to ICE in 2017. The apparent lack of the right of habeas corpus for the undocumented and/or ICE’s apparent lack of concern for transparency makes the decision to choose the more conservative interpretation of Alexandria's relationship to ICE a greater moral hazard.
The sheriff said that he was elected in order to make these decisions.
To some degree, that is true and I am sympathetic to his burdens of office. But I also believe officials are elected in order to carry out the laws of the land, the will of those they represent, and to be guided by compassion. If Alexandria’s statement on inclusiveness (2007 and amended 2016) represents the will of the majority of our citizens, most Alexandrians would hope the sheriff would lean toward more liberal policies regarding undocumented members of our community.
Candidate for City Council