WASHINGTON — Virginia would require all of its jails to hold any prisoner in the country illegally for as long as federal immigration authorities ask, under a bill set to return to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s desk.
The measure is similar to one McAuliffe vetoed last year.
Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, argued Monday the bill simply requires jails to follow federal law when they receive what is known as a “detainer” from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A “detainer” or “immigration hold,” is a written request to hold apprehended individuals for up to 48 hours past their release dates.
“They can’t release that inmate, except pursuant to that order, and they can’t ignore it,” Obenshain said. “It’s a simple law and order bill.”
Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat who defeated Obenshain in 2013, issued an opinion in 2014 that local jails are not required by law to honor federal detainer requests.
Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, said the bill would lead to Virginia taxpayers picking up the costs of what should be a federal duty.
“From my perspective, this is just going to increase as the federal government apparently increases and changes its policy. I know there was some talk this weekend about how they weren’t changing their policy, but I can tell you that there weren’t federal agents roving around the streets of my district until Friday picking people up,” Surovell said.
He said a number of people had come to him “freaked out about the federal government terrorizing my neighborhood.”
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said in a statement that much publicized raids described as routine “targeted enforcement operations,” resulted in more than 680 arrests in the Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, San Antonio and New York City areas. The statement did not address reports from advocacy groups of similar incidents elsewhere, but said that about one in four of the 680 had no criminal violations other than being in the country illegally.
“Given just the confusion and the murkiness of our federal whatever — federal executive orders, federal regulations, federal laws, federal tweets — whatever’s going on at the federal level is just extraordinarily confusing for our law enforcement folks in our neighborhoods and in our communities,” Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, said during Monday’s debate on the bill.
“More importantly, immigrants are going to be very afraid to come forward and cooperate with police. At the end of the day, our local police can only keep neighborhoods safe if they have a good relationship with all of the residents with whom they are pledged to serve, to protect,” Favola said.
Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Grayson, said that was not what the bill is intended to address.
“We’re talking about people incarcerated. We’re talking about people that have violated the law, that are in jail,” he said.
Sen. Dick Black, R-Loudoun, said that if people are in the country illegally and commit crimes, “something ought to be done about it.”
The Senate approved the legislation on a 21-19 party line vote. The House of Delegates had already passed a similar version of the bill.
“It is an intensely personal issue for some who are being accused of being heartless, hateful people,” Obenshain said. “I didn’t come into this as a big advocate for the current president … I think that this is a political dispute, and I guess that many on the political left have an interest in fanning those flames, and I think it’s, frankly, pretty sad.”
“You might want to address those remarks to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.,” Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, responded.