Advocates Call for New Law to End Local Agency Cooperation with ICE

Chairperson Charles Allen leads the discussion of the Oct. 1 hearing (Sasha Fernandez).

As emergency legislation is set to expire, D.C. advocates and residents testified in a Judiciary and Public Safety hearing to permanently prohibit the District’s cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

The Oct. 1 hearing, which was led by Chairperson Charles Allen, included testimony from activists calling for the Sanctuary Values Temporary Amendment Act to become an established law. 

For Joella Roberts, a ‘Dreamer’ of the DACA program and D.C. resident, this law is personal. 

“As a Black, undocumented woman living in an overpoliced city, it is by god’s grace that I return home every day,” she said in her virtual testimony. “There is no permanent protection for migrants like myself.”

This emergency legislation, which is set to expire Oct. 9, prohibits D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department and Department of Corrections from obeying ICE requests. 

ICE requests can ask a District department to provide confidential information related to a resident’s address, location, and timing of their hearing or release. In the past, this information has been utilized by ICE to track, detain and then deport migrants. 

Roberts urged the council to adopt this law, citing her feelings of insecurity within her own city. 

“We need a strong, permanent Sanctuary Values Act that leaves no one behind,” Roberts said. “As our national government launches daily attacks that criminalize migration and immigrants, it is up to our local government to keep us safe.”

How Does the Law Work?

Before the Sanctuary Values Temporary Amendment Act was established in 2019, D.C.’s undocumented residents who were arrested for civil crimes were at risk of deportation. 

For undocumented, Washingtonian Gerson Quinteros, who came to D.C. to reunite with his mother, was unaware of this provision. He thought that he was protected from federal immigration authorities.

“I was always told that D.C. was a sanctuary city, which meant that I couldn’t be torn apart from my family,” Quinteros said in his testimony.

While D.C. has been a self-established sanctuary city for the past three years, and by definition should not comply with federal immigration authorities, it has a history of local agencies providing information to ICE.

Immigration Attorney Julie Mao said in her testimony, that at ICE’s request, MPD officers could coordinate with the federal agency by disclosing an immigrants’ undocumented status and by providing their local address. 

“Such collaboration effectively turns every MPD or D.C. official, every stop and frisk detention, traffic arrest, into an arm of ICE’s deportation dragnet,” Mao said in her testimony. 

No member or official from the MPD testified at the hearing.

Mao said in her testimony that it was not just a policy applicable to the police department. ICE also coordinated with the District’s Department of Corrections (DOC) to find out the timing and location for when perpetrators would be released from local jail or when they would be at a courthouse attending their hearing. The DOC also had a practice of forcibly holding inmates within local jails until ICE arrived to detain them. 

While each of these practices have been banned within the law, Mao said that the policy should be adjusted to supersede an agreement between DOC and the U.S. Marshals Service, where the federal agency can request DOC to detain individuals. 

Quincy Booth, who is the director of the Department of Corrections, said in his testimony that since the Council passed the emergency legislation, the department has worked to reform their policies to fit the District’s laws. This included rewriting sections of their training manual and conducting retraining sessions with both inmate records and discharge staff.

In addition, D.O.C. changed their policy, so that undocumented arrestees will be released as soon as they are eligible, rather than previously when they would wait until ICE officials arrived.

“DOC is in compliance with both the District law and its agencies’ policies,” Booth said. 

MPD’s Compliance with the Law

When it comes to MPD’s compliance with the emergency legislation, there is conflicting evidence.

MPD Police Chief Peter Newsham said in a 2017 press conference that the police would abide by D.C.’s standards as a Sanctuary City.

“We believe that the enforcement of civil immigration laws creates a divide between us and the community we serve and at the end of the day we believe that will make our community less safe. As the Chief of Police, I don’t think I should be involved in any behavior that makes our city less safe,” he said.

The MPD press official did not respond to a phone and an email request for comment.

Ahoefa Ananouko, a Policy Associate at the D.C. ACLU, cited a Washington City Paper article in her testimony which demonstrated that since the emergency law passed, D.C. police had coordinated with ICE by providing confidential information about an undocumented individual on two separate occasions. 

Both ICE and MPD denied this. 

For Ananouko, this incident is emblematic of what might happen to more immigrants if the law does not stipulate the need for supervision of local departments. 

“This illustrates an urgent need for strong oversight in DOC and MPD to ensure that they do not continue breaking District law,” Ananouko said. 

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