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Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Sheriff’s Office And Due Process
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Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Sheriff’s Office And Due Process

Thank you for allowing me to address some of the unfair and inaccurate statements presented by Cam Cook in his recent letter (“Vigilance Required,” Alexandria Gazette, July 26, 2018).

The Alexandria Sheriff’s Office (ASO) does not interfere with due process of anyone in our custody. Those inmates who are brought to our jail are arrested for other offenses and it is only during their processing that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), because of Virginia law, would be notified that they are in our custody. Our compliance with this is not immigration enforcement or denying due process; this is simply the law of the Commonwealth. Mr. Cook and others may be surprised to know that even after such notification ICE does not seek warrants for all offenders whose immigration status is in question.

Contrary to Mr. Cook’s statement, the intergovernmental agreement (IGA) does not provide the actual mechanism for transfer of offenders to ICE. Rather, state and federal laws dictate that we transfer offenders sought by ICE to ICE when they file a valid warrant. Even without the IGA, ASO would continue to turn inmates over to ICE, as Fairfax and Arlington continue to do without an IGA, because it is required by state and federal laws. The IGA does not pose a burden or create increased work for our staff. However, it does assist our staff in the orderly transfer of inmates and it also allows the Sheriff’s Office to make adjustments, as we recently did to ensure that ICE picks up offenders within a reasonable timeframe. The newly revised IGA is narrow, limited, and serves a valid purpose. It’s not used to hold anyone who simply violates immigration laws

While I may be stating the obvious, I feel I must remind some that ASO is a law enforcement agency, and as such, we must comply with state and federal laws. ASO recognizes that ICE warrants are lawfully issued and valid. Further, ASO will not ignore warrants presented by federal agencies simply because some argue they are “administrative” or issued for a “civil infraction.”

To simply release offenders sought by ICE into the community would be irresponsible and could compromise public safety as the overwhelming majority are charged with or have been convicted of violent or felony charges. For example, the 16 inmates currently in custody who are being sought by ICE have been charged with malicious wounding, assaulting a law enforcement officer, aggravated sexual battery, strangulation, abduction, distribution of cocaine and other drugs, and other serious offenses.

I’ve met with immigrant advocacy organizations, such as Legal Aid Justice Center and Tenants and Workers United, to answer their questions, share requested information, and review our own policies and practices. As a result of these discussions and our own review, we did make modifications that would not compromise public safety or violate the law. But rather than recognize these changes as anything more than a “step in the right direction,” Mr. Cook finds fault with our Office for complying with a federal warrant. To be fair and impartial, I will not treat some inmates one way and others another, nor will I choose to respect some warrants and not others.

I am sworn to uphold the law and will continue to do so. Those who do not like the laws should work to change them rather than ask law enforcement agencies to ignore them. Ignoring them would allow Alexandria to become a “sanctuary city” and it also would require me to disregard my sworn duty to “faithfully and impartially discharge” my duties as Sheriff.

Those who wish to learn more about applicable laws and our policies may contact my office by calling 703-746-4114 or by visiting our website, www.alexandriava.gov/sheriff.

Dana Lawhorne, Sheriff